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Vietnamese Shipwreck Wares

Figure 1: Lot 102, (4) Vietnamese Small Blue and White Lidded Jarlets, from Oakridge Auction Gallery's November Discovery auction, November 25, 2019.

When I think of 18th century maritime trade, I usually think first of pirates ruling the high seas (argh, and shiver me timbers, and all that), Johnny Depp swaggering across the decks of an old galleon whistling some nautical chanty with sea-boots up to his knees and a cutlass at his hip.

My second, more realistic association is with colonialism, dominated in East Asia particularly by the Dutch and Portuguese, who brought porcelains and silks and spices from East to West and forever changed European markets and storefronts. 

Somewhere between these two visions of 18th century maritime trade exists the additional reality of shipwrecks - and, hauled up from the depths of many a coastline, shipwreck goods.

This November 2019 auction includes several shipwreck items found off the coast of Vietnam, including a few ceramic lots from the Ca Mau shipwreck, discovered 1998 and distributed among museums before the rest was auctioned in 2007.1 The ship itself has been identified as a Chinese junk, a type of sailing ship with multiple masts, square sails, and a rudder.2

Believed to have been bound for the Dutch trading post of Batavia, modern-day Jakarta, the ship’s cargo “consisted of chinaware, porcelains, blue  and white ware, porcelains decorated in brown, white-glazed  porcelains over-glazed with enamels, and various stoneware, all originating from different kilns in southern China.”3  Many of these were tea-wares, in the blue-and-white patterns favored by European consumers;4 others, such as those in our upcoming auction, were small, modest-looking jarlets and lidded boxes for either the Vietnamese or European export market.

Fig. 1: Lot 110, 5 Vietnamese Shipwreck Ceramics from Oakridge Auction Gallery's November Discovery auction, November 25, 2019.

For collectors of shipwreck wares, the most exciting aspect of these jarlets must surely be the inclusion on many lots of barnacles and other evidence of the jarlets’ time spent beneath the sea. Lot 110 features three jarlets with varying levels of barnacle infestation, and signs that other sea fauna and flora have been scraped off by the first few hands encountering these treasures after their discovery.

Figure 3: Detail of Lot 110

The ship found at Ca Mau is believed to have sunk in or around 1725,5 in the golden days of Dutch maritime expansion. As pieces made for the export market, these shipwreck wares most likely date to the same period, although a few of those coming from unidentified Vietnamese shipwrecks may even be older.

To see more of the shipwreck wares in our upcoming auction, check out our online catalog on Live Auctioneers and Invaluable:



[1] https://en.unesco.org/silkroad/silk-road-themes/underwater-heritage/ca-mau-1725

[2] https://www.britannica.com/technology/junk-ship

[3] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239841165_The_Ca_Mau_Shipwreck_1723-1735

[4] http://canadiansocietyforasianarts.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/CSAA-Sunken-Treasures-catalogue.pdf

[5] https://www.nma.gov.au/explore/features/european_voyages/european_voyages_to_the_australian_continent/trade/tea_and_china/the_ca_mau_wreck

Literature Consulted:













About the Author

Katharina Biermann joined Oakridge Auction Gallery in the beginning of 2019, having completed her Master of Letters at the University of Glasgow in the History of Art with a specialization in Dress and Textile Histories. Ms. Biermann developed hands-on expertise of European arts and culture while interning in internationally renowned institutions including the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY. She remains particularly interested in medieval and 19th-20th century visual and material culture.

Katharina Biermann

Mon, Nov 25, 2019 10:42 AM

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