Chicago Antiques Guide

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Soapstone Carving

Posted Sunday, July 02 by Brian

Could you please let me know anything about this carving? I don't know the history at all. It is about 10 across and 6 inches high. It has a monkey with a peach, deer, bats and other animals and looks to be out some ort of stone, perhaps jade? Anything you could share would be helpful. Thanks.
Soapstone Carving.jpg
Your piece appears to be carved from soapstone. Soapstone is a soft rock, also called steatite, that is very easy to carve. Jade on the other hand is generally very hard and difficult to carve. If you want to test your piece, turn it over and scratch on the bottom (where it won't be seen)with any sharp piece of steel, such as a knife blade or nail. It should scratch very easily.

Soapstone Carving Detail.jpgThe Chinese have been carving soapstone for centuries and still produce large quantities today. The quality of the carving and the size and coloring of the stone contribute to the determination of value. Yours is a very good sized piece and the coloring is nice. But, the quality of the carving is rather crude (see enlargeable photo at right). It is very possible for a talented artist to create a beautiful carving with great detail that uses the color variations as part of the design. To view some nicely carved pieces, check out the selection on the web site of Randall Antiques and Fine Arts. You can click on their pictures to enlarge them.

Your carving was likely done for the tourist or gift shop market, rather than the collector market. I would put the value in the $40 to $50 range because of the lack of quality in the carving, although I have seen pieces like this marked higher just because of the size. It is generally entry level antique dealers in antique malls that overvalue them based on size alone.

Dating soapstone carvings can be difficult, but I suspect that your piece was done anytime in the last 50-60 years. Many pieces were brought back by soldiers during WW II and the Korean War, as well as the myriad of Hawaiian and Asian tourists since.

In addition to the Chinese, the Inuits of Canada have been carving soapstone as well, and their artist signed and registered pieces are commanding high prices. Chinese carvings are generally very elaborate and Inuit pieces elegantly simple by comparison.

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The soapstone carving is of the monkey god returning from heaven with breadfruit; the bat and the beaver are traditional symbols of the earth--the bowl is another symbol of the earth.

 John From Long Island

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