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Wine and Sprits of the Ancestors

by: Edith and Joel Frankel

New York NY: E & J Frankel Ltd. 2001, Hardbound
ISBN: None

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(4) page(s): 22

Many auction and sales catalogues about things Chinese are a treasure trove of information. Among the very best of these is this volume, others too, done by Edith Frankel with help from her husband, perhaps some from her daughter and son-in-law. This gem of a hardbound was available for sale at the March/April 2001 Exhibition and sale at the Frankel's gallery at 1040 Madison Avenue in New York City's Manhattan; their phone: (212) 879-5733. For those unfamiliar with E & J Frankel Ltd., it is a great source of things old and wonderful and mostly Chinese, and it is the second-oldest Chinese art gallery in the United States.

This book about wine in ancient China has an introduction that details wine and other fermented drinks far back in pre-history. Early origins of wine in China are Neolithic in the Xia Dynasty (5000 - 1600 BCE). This section alone is full of wonderful material about wine storage in hu, fanghu and lei containers. Serving items to pour wine that have heaters are there, too, and known as yi or fangyi; the even more ancient ones are called jue or jia.

The book also discusses that which is after the Xia through the Shang (1600 - 1122 BCE), the Zhou (1122 - 256 BCE) and the Han Dynasties (206 BCE - 220 CE), and goes on for two millennia thereafter. The catalogue-cum-book has thirty pages of of less well-known yet very accurate and carefully researched information. That preceedes the stunning color photographs of forty-three ancient bronze, pottery, wood, and bamboo wine-related objects and a gorgeous horizontal scroll of seven drinkers. This catalogue is a masterpiece to be consulted by all who study Chinese alcoholic beverage use. Wish we ourselves had known of its availability a couple of years ago.

The Frankel gallery has done seventy-seven other major exhibits and all had catalogues or books that were carefully researched gems. This particular one has a thirty-six-item bibliography of useful American, English, Japanese, and Chinese reference material.

The in-store antiques are all top quality, and seasoned collectors know it is worth a trip to it. We have called their place a museum even though all the items for show are items for sale. The few visits we have made to this gallery are always learning experiences. Edith founded the Far Eastern Art Department at the New School in 1970, and has taught and lectured on Chinese art in many places in the United States. She spoke about the book and early wine history to the Culinary Historians of New York, and we were fortunate enough to obtain this book there.

All artifacts shown and sold at her and Joel's gallery reflect the history and influence of the Chinese and other Asian cultures, and her depth of knowledge. That background and their years of experience are why the book is so good. In it you learn about shamans, dance, hallucinogenic drugs, and alcohol. From it and from Edith you also learn that Yuan Mei, a great connoisseur of food and wine during the Qing dynasty, wrote that Suzhou and Shaoxing wines were overrated, and that dark millet wine of Lishi is great. Glad her Masters Degree in Biology has been put to such great use.

For those who want to know, jue is a cup for drinking wine, li is a storage jar, ja is a drinking goblet, and fang a four-corner storage container. Ke is a pouring vessel, jin a base or altar, gu is a beaker, and ge is a drinking container. Should you wonder about wine and drinking games, they began during the Warring States period. That and more is what this catalogue can teach. We do look forward to the 80th exhibit and its book, and say to the Frankels, keep up your great work!

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