Contributed by Paul Bromberg, Editor of Journal of the Siam Society, Contributing Editor to Arts of Asia magazine and author of THAI SILVER and Nielloware (River Books, 2019).

A pair of ribbed lai nam thong lidded pots Thailand, 19th century. Height(left) 8.5 cm, diameter 6.5 cm; (right) height 8.5 cm, diameter 6.0 cm

To quote Maurice Chevalier, “Ah, yes, I remember it well.”

It was the first Saturday of March 2004. My wife and I were wandering around the River City Shopping Centre in Bangkok when we saw that the monthly antiques auction would be held that afternoon. We had always been somewhat intimidated by the thought of bidding at auction, but we carefully examined the lots on offer and, on the spur of the moment, decided that we would bid for a charming pair of Bencharong round lidded pots (tho prik). Fortunately, we were successful.

To this day, I am not sure what attracted us to these particular pots—we had been enchanted by Bencharong wares for many years, having previously bought modern reproductions as presents for friends.

Perhaps it was the fact that this was a pair, or that the pots are ribbed, imitating the shape of a pumpkin; possibly, it was the simple, but attractive, vertical blue and red floral design outlined in gold on a white enamel ground, which I would later learn meant that these pots are actually lai nam thong (literally: gold washed pattern) ware, a subset of Bencharong that requires an additional firing; maybe we were attracted to the wonky metal lotus bud finials, which I now know are rather poor later additions. Originally, this type of pot, used to hold cosmetics, oils or ointment in a lady’s toilet, would have had a gold, tiered finial inset with precious or semi-precious gems.

I now know that these pots are not the best of their type—far from it—but they will remain immensely precious to me. I could not know our decision to attend the auction that day would have such a momentous impact on my life over the next 16 years, but my interest in, and passion for, Bencharong has led to many enduring friendships, academic intrigue (with regard to the Ring Collection of Oslo),[1] several publications and a collecting passion that continues unabated today.

Note: These pots have previously been published in: Bromberg, Paul, “A Passion for Bencharong”, Hong Kong: Arts of Asia, 2010, Vol. 40(3), p. 149; and Rooney, Dawn F., Bencharong: Chinese Porcelain for Siam, Bangkok: River Books: 2017, p. 112.

[1] I was extremely fortunate to attend the SEACS lecture given by Rose Kerr in March 2010. After her talk on Chinese Export Ceramics, she suggested that I travel to Oslo to view the recently discovered Ring Collection of Bencharong; this fateful suggestion eventually led to the publication of an article, “The Ring Collection”, that I co-authored with Anne Habu in Arts of Asia, 2011, Vol 41(2), pp. 131-139, and the book, Royal Porcelain from Siam, Unpacking the Ring Collection, Habu, Anne and Dawn F. Rooney (eds), Oslo: Hermes Publishing, 2013.