HONG KONG – An intimate group of items that once belonged to the legendary Chinese antiques connoisseur Edward T. Chow is the focus of a special Sotheby's sale in Hong Kong on May 27. Billed as Playthings from the Collection of Edward T. Chow, the selection highlights the late Mr Chow's renowned love of beautiful and rare Chinese objects. Among the lots are exquisite Qing carved jades, a mythical creature in bronze from the Ming Dynasty, and a Jiaqing famille rose vase with European-style painting.

Edward T. Chow in his home in Shanghai in the 1940s.

Mr Chow's grandson, Nicolas Chow, Sotheby's International Head of Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art and Asia Deputy Chairman, has fond memories of idyllic weekends at his grandparents' home in Geneva. He says: “Every Sunday we would go visit for lunch and my grandmother would cook. My father would always ask my brother and me to bring our grandfather his cup of tea. We would bring it to him in his studio – he was always there, by the window, with a blanket on his lap, examining objects. On the wall, he would have hanging objects, little jades, bamboo. It was in the intimacy of his studio that he enjoyed his playthings.”

A Famille-Rose ‘European Subject’ vase, Mark and Period of Jiaqing. Estimate HK$ 400,000-600,000.

The older Mr Chow moved from Shanghai, where he first learned the Chinese antiques trade, to Hong Kong in the late 1940s. In the 1960s, he moved his family to Europe, where many of his major clients were based. Among those whose world-renowned Chinese antiques collections he helped to build were American heiress Barbara Hutton, Sir Percival David and King Gustav VI of Sweden.

Nicolas Chow says his grandfather “had a few very simple rules. An object had to be beautiful, not just rare. It had to be pleasing to the eye. He also made sure to pick items in the finest condition. When he was active in the 1930s onward, he was very selective. He was very particular about condition.”

A white Jade ‘mandarin ducks’ Group Carving, Qing dynasty, Yongzheng / Qianlong Period. Estimate HK$ 400,000-600,000.

A small jade carving of a pair of quails with lingzi is a fine example of Edward T. Chow's exquisite taste and cultured eye. The delicate design is a reference to an auspicious greeting for peace and prosperity. The single piece of polished white jade is intricately carved, as seen in the level of detail seen in the quails' feathers and feet. Natural russet in the stone was used by the artist to heighten the drama of the lingzi. Such a jade carving would not be out of place as a piece to be treasured and enjoyed on the desk of a scholar.

Mr Chow was a passionate collector who owned thousands of pieces, many kept for his own private pleasure. Such was Mr Chow's reputation in the antiques world that when he passed away, the two-part sale in London and Hong Kong of his collection became a sensational and historic auction, as collectors from all over the world competed to own porcelains, bronzes, and jades. It earned a place in history as one of the greatest sales of the 1980s.

Never before seen in the open market, the items in the 27 May sale come directly from some of Mr Chow's decendants.

Alexandra A. Seno writes on art and culture in Asia.