Preserving History
    Category: Luxury & Lifestyle By : Zhiang Song Read : 1082 Date : Saturday, October 12, 2013 - 07:49:41

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    When Boedi Mranata gives a tour of his collections, he is excited, smiling and very proud. He recounts the stories and rich history behind his favorite pieces with enthusiasm and a sense of scholarly authority. Boedi's collection of ceramics consists of around 2,000 pieces and the number is still increasing. Unlike some collectors, Boedi does not see his collection as an investment. He has never sold anything, despite the potential to reap millions in profits and repeated offers from auction houses. Boedi has hundreds of antique ceramics on display in his own private museum in a three-story building in South Jakarta. He lives next to his museum, on a quiet cul-de-sac in an exclusive gated community.

    A marine biologist by training, Boedi is an unlikely collector. After getting a PhD from Hamburg University in Germany, Boedi first worked in the fishery industry for over a decade and then started his own business exporting bird's nests to China, where they are consumed as a delicacy, usually in a soup. (Boedi says he eats bird's nest soup every day.) The profit from that business financed his passion for antique Chinese ceramics, many from Indonesia. As part of his passion, Boedi now serves as the chairman of the Ceramic Society of Indonesia (HKI), which boasts of over 300 members, mostly other collectors.

    These Chinese ceramics tell the story of Indonesia's long history as a center of international trade. Many have been found inside the sunken remains of merchant ships, which plied the spice and trade routes from China to Indonesia. “Chinese people came and they brought porcelain and silk. From Indonesia they bought back commodities like ivory, rhino horns and birds' nests. This was already happening more than a thousand years ago,” says Boedi.

    In 1998, a shipwreck from the Tang dynasty of China (over a thousand years ago) was found in Batu Hitam off Belitung island, which is considered by many to be the earliest evidence of Indonesian-Chinese trade. Inside his house, Boedi showed several Tang Dynasty pieces. Although made over a thousand years ago, these porcelains look new and shine softly under the lamplight—as they had spent most of those years undisturbed on the seabed ever since some unfortunate trader lost his ship.

    “From a thousand pieces [in a shipwreck], maybe only one or two pieces are in good condition; most of them were damaged,” explains Boedi. Many ceramics get broken after the ship sunk, or collapsed in on itself on the seabed. Others are ruined as they become encrusted with mollusks or other crustaceans. Boedi says some of his pieces could easily fetch several hundred thousand dollars. Several pieces are among the only ones of their kind that exist in Indonesia.

    According to Boedi, the slightest variations in the quality of the ceramics can make a huge difference in prices. Age is another major determinant of value. Boedi has had several pieces scientifically tested for age. In his museum, he has the test certificate proudly on display next to a jar that confirms that it was made during the Yuan dynasty.