A General Introduction to Identifying Bronze Objects

¡@¡@As the bronze articles of the Shang and Chou dynasties have outstandingly artistic values in modeling and patterns, there has been a rich collection in the royal palace as early as the North Sung period. Some scholars are fond of metals and stones, which contributes to the common practice of collecting bronzes. After the periods of Chien Lung and Chia Ching in the Ching dynasty, some certain wealthy connoisseurs collect a wide variety of unearthed bronzes and there are a great number of writings and books on bronzes as well. Descriptions of modeling, patterns and inscriptions etc. have already excelled those in the Sung dynasty. Researches on bronzes become systematic and professional. As the value of bronzes is high, they are not only deemed as the research targets of histories and cultures, but also collected as precious treasures, which stimulated the antique industry to a great extent at that time. This trend is also accompanied with the atmosphere of faking bronzes. People of the Yuan and Ming dynasties did not possess an adequate knowledge of ancient bronzes, compared with people in the Sung dynasty. Consequently, fake bronzes of these two dynasties cannot be escaped under inspections. There should be no problems in appraising the bronzes of these two periods.

Most of the bronzes during the Shang and Chou dynasties were cast through Tao Fan method; nevertheless, fake bronzes were cast with loose wax or through renovation approaches. Since bronze fabricators then only emphasized the shapes of the objects, instead of a full knowledge of the casting theory and method, Tao Fan method indeed helps a lot in distinguishing true bronze articles from fake ones. As the approach of casting fake bronzes is completely different from ancient Tao Fan method, castings presented by fake bronzes differ as well. The major technique to observe bronzes cast by Tao Fan method is to pay attention to Fan lines and vestiges at the Fan conjunction spots. Any piece of bronze objects during the Shang and Chou dynasties has certain specifications for conjunction. Besides, it is almost impossible leaving no marks at the conjunction area for any piece of bronzes cast by Tao Fan method. Though it's easy to modify and correct marks at the conjunction areas upon some objects with few patterns; however, marks are bound to be left in the hidden areas, such as the inside of the ear/handle and the lower part of the tripod vessels (Ding). On the other hand, the surface of the fake bronzes fabricated by loose wax method is finer. Few of them can even achieve the same effect as if they were cast by Tao Fan method. So far, the loose wax method has been regarded as an advanced approach for bronze casting, but no Fan marks can be retrieved on these fake bronzes applying this method. The so-called Fan lines refer to the vestiges/marks resulted from fine and minor dislocations while piecing together. Some of the marks are significant; whereas, some are not so apparent. Nevertheless, fabricators did not know the origin and usually corrected them by making them become very flat and symmetrical, which is exactly the evidence of fabrication.

In addition, newly cast objects are usually heavier than original ones, which is also a feature of the fakes. Fake bronzes are not oxidized and eroded for a long period of time, which is different from those buried underground for more than two thousand years. The surfaces of the gradually eroded bronzes over thousands of years become slightly bloated and the specific gravity decreases as well. Whereas, fake casts are obviously heavier due to lack of these processes. Besides, fake bronzes fabricated with loose wax method are thicker than the originals because fabricators did not see the original objects and wax molds were not as thin as the originals, either. Based on these two aforementioned factors, it should be easy to tell fake bronzes from real ones. Furthermore, fake objects produce clear and melodious clinking sounds while being knocked because they are newly cast. If they were buried in the deep area underground, the sound would become stale and rough since bronze property is mineralized; on the contrary, if they were concealed in the extremely dry soils, clinking sound would become clearer as well. As for fabrication of rust spots on bronzes, factors such as, soil texture, humidity, underground water and corruption resulted from organic buriers produce different chemical components, which leads to substantial variations on the surface layer of the bronzes since the bronze objects of the Shang and Chou dynasties are buried underground for a long time. All kinds of bronze rusts adhered unto the surface are formed layer by layer, which results in a tight and strong structure uneasy to peel off. Surface layers and bronze rusts of the bronze objects differ from one area to another. According to the unearthed bronzes, the surface layers of the bronzes in dry areas preserve better, dissolution of bronze nature is less and rust change is not complicated. However, those bronzes unearthed from Lo Yang and ruins of the Shang dynasty, as a whole, are not preserved well with many layers of bronze rusts as well as complicated resolution of bronze character. Humid places suck as the Yangtze River area have an extremely serious erosion phenomenon. Some bronzes even have only one finely thin layer left. This kind of situation is called ¡§semi-bodiless¡¨ or ¡§bodiless.¡¨ Under this type of circumstance, bronzes are difficult to preserve. Bronzes are alloys of copper, tin and lead. Striped or spotted streaks appear on the surfaces of the bronze objects after mineralization underground for a long period of time. There is absolutely no doubt about those bronzes with obvious streaks on the surfaces because fake bronzes can never have such patterns. As bronze objects used to be utilized frequently in ancient times, their surfaces are usually quite shiny and clean, especially for those small containers and vessels applied in the ordinary life. When bronze objects are eroded and the texture turns into carbonic copper, luster on the surface will become more compact, which forms an optical film. The optical film has various colors, such as green, black, silver and gold, etc. Erosion can be seen beneath this layer of optical film. As a result, fabricated bronzes can only make believe their appearance, but not the corrosive structure of the surface layer. That is the reason why fake bronzes are usually painted with a rust color on the surface and then put on with fabricated rust. Though it seems like a piece of vivid work; nevertheless, the lustrous paint is easy to come off, which is totally different from real rust with strong adhesion of real metals.

In a word, the most important point for distinguishing real bronze objects from false ones is to compare by correct materials and find out true answers. Right judgments can be made after accumulating appraisal methods. Although scientific approaches are usually the most effective methods, they are merely assistance tools at best due to their shortcoming of destroying objects.

Author Tsai Wen Hsiung

at Liao Ning Street, Taipei

January, 2000

Tel : 886-4-22309536¡E886-4-22335659¡@ Fax : 886-4-22335659¡@

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