Tran Duc Anh Son

Younger collectors are searching out valuable “bleu de hue” ceramics

Younger collectors are searching out valuable Do su ky kieu ceramics

“Bleu de hue” (Đồ sứ ký kiểu) are porcelain items crafted in China that were commissioned by the Vietnamese court from the 17th to early 20th centuries. They can be classified into four categories depending on when they were created: during the rule of Le-Trinh dynasty, the Nguyen Lords, the Tay Son era, and the Nguyen dynasty (after the unification of Dang Trong and Dang Ngoai). The earliest “bleu de hue” pieces were ordered by the Le Monarchs and the Trinh Lords of the Outer Realm (Dang Ngoai) in the 17th century. These are the most prized by antique collectors and are arguably the most valuable in Vietnam’s antique market.

The “Bleu de hue” of the Le-Trinh era bears two marks: Neifu (Inner court) and Qing Chun (Spring blessing). The Neifu mark has six sub-marks, each used for one palace: Nội phủ thị trung (Main Royal Palace), Nội phủ thị hữu (Right Royal Palace), Nội phủ thị bắc (North Royal Palace), Nội phủ thị nam (South Royal Palace), Nội phủ thị đông (East Royal Palace), and Nội phủ thị đoài (West Royal Palace). The Khánh Qingchun mark has two: Qing Chun and Qing Chun Shi Zuo (Made for the Principal Palace Shrine). Qing Chun porcelain has more artistic value and is rarer and more expensive than Neifu porcelain. Each perfect Qing Chun plate with a diameter of 15cm is currently worth VND 800 million. Plates that are 18cm in diameter are worth much more.

However, it takes more than money to buy Neifu – Qing Chun porcelain, as many wealthy collectors in Vietnam today are willing to spend billions to own masterpieces commissioned by the Le Monarchs and Trinh Lords. Moreover, Neifu – Qingchun porcelain has become increasingly rare, with fewer and fewer wares on the market over the past 300 years. For this reason, fake copies of Neifu – Qing Chun porcelain have been rife on the antique market since the end of the Nguyen dynasty. Many people with riches and passion but without knowledge of these particular porcelain wares have paid a hefty “tuition” by buying fake Neifu – Qing Chun items.

Only master collectors have the courage and wealth to buy Neifu – Qing Chun porcelains. Based on my 30 years of research into “bleu de hue”, only big shots in Vietnam’s antique collecting world, such as Vuong Hong Sen, Tran Dinh Son, Pham Hy Tung, Nguyen Thanh Tuyen, and the monk Truc Thong, to name a few, have procured such items. Most of these true “masters” reside in Saigon and are the proud owners of valuable Le-Trinh “bleu de hue” collections.

Do su ky kieu ceramics from the Le - Trinh era are increasingly rare and valuable

But times have changed. In the past ten years, young people have started to collect prized Neifu – Qing Chun porcelains. Most of them come from Vietnam’s Northern provinces. Three among these are residents of Hanoi, namely Nguyen Cong Tuan (a construction contractor), Ngo Van Tuong (owner of a wood business), and Cao Cuong (an employee of a British bank). They have spent a great deal of money, effort, and judgment to procure genuine Neifu – Qing Chun porcelains – a treasure for both Vietnamese and foreign collectors – to indulge in this elegant yet costly hobby.

Three young Hanoian collectors are now the proud owners of over 30 original Neifu – Qing Chun wares of various types, sizes, motifs, and marks that epitomize Le-Trinh “bleu de hue”. Money aside, they have spent years seeking items that catch their eye and convincing the big-shot collectors to part with these treasures, already a feat in itself.

While Cao Cuong is passionate about “Nội phủ thị nam” items (porcelain made for the South Palace) with lotus and crab motifs, Nguyen Cong Tuan procures valuable Qing Chun items with dragon-qilin-phoenix decorative motifs. Ngo Van Truong seeks Neifu items dedicated to all of the palaces: Main Royal Palace, Right Royal Palace, North Royal Palace, South Royal Palace, East Royal Palace, and West Royal Palace. Despite their differences, they share one thing in common: their passion for Le-Trinh “bleu de hue”.

The Museum of Royal Antiquities in Hue boasts over 2,000 “bleu de hue” wares of several periods, mostly from the Nguyen dynasty, with only a few pieces from the Le-Trinh dynasty. The museum has asked for the cooperation of Le-Trinh “bleu de hue” owners from Saigon and Hue to co-host an exhibition of these artifacts. Because porcelain wares of the Le-Trinh era are so valuable, collectors are hesitant to lend, transport, and exhibit their procured items for long periods.

"Dragon and qilin around the character Tho" design on plates with the Khanh xuan thi ta mark

After hearing about the young Hanoian collectors who own real and perfect “bleu de hue” pieces from the Le-Trinh era, the museum suggested a collaboration to exhibit these treasures in Hue so that the public may marvel at them. All three of them agreed without hesitation. 

Thanks to this, for the first time, at the 2018 Hue Festival, tourists and the antique lovers had the chance to feast their eyes upon quintessential Le-Trinh “bleu de hue”, among other porcelain artifacts from different periods. The exhibition at the Museum of Royal Antiquities in Hue ran for one month, attracting enthusiasts from throughout the country. It was the main attraction of that year’s Hue Festival.