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Lark Mason, author of Asian Art and a frequent guest on Antiques Roadshow, is equally enthusiastic about Chinese bronzes. Standing amid rows of prized sculpture, priest's robes and gold-threaded fabrics in his New York warehouse, he holds a foot-high gilded lacquer Buddha from the 17th century. "One clue that this casting is authentic is the patina; it couldn't be replicated. A plain bronze figure with no gilding is much easier to fake, but not this one with gold lacquer over the bronze that has turned red."
Mason turns the Buddha upside down, revealing its hollowed-out bottom. "If new collectors look at the buildup of dirt on the surface from many years of corrosion, they can tell it's genuine," he says. "These Buddhas and other mythological figures have been steadily appreciating in value over the last 10 years, but there are a lot of fakes. Learn what you can about the subject, look at images and make comparisons. It's often very difficult for the novice to tell what's real, so work with a dealer. There are so many misrepresented items, I'd never buy anything in China."
The prices of Buddhas and other Buddhist figures, according to Mason, vary in relation to size, quality of craftsmanship and age. (Now that affluent Chinese are increasingly active in the antiques market, notable figures are selling for upwards of $1 million.)