Jan-Erik Nilsson, Raffles Hotel, Singapore. September 2004

The Gotheborg Help and Info Website and Forum

The Help and Information Website and Forum is probably the largest collectors' resource on the Internet that provides help and information to collectors of Chinese and Japanese porcelain.

On the site itself, there are more then 1,000 pages of information on antique Chinese and Japanese porcelain, written over a period of more than ten years, beginning December 1998, all available at no cost.

At a fee, anyone can also get personal help and, if you like, post questions and participate in a separate collectors' Discussion Board that has been widely recognized for its polite manners and highly qualified and unbiased help. The number of messages and photos in the Forum are approaching a quarter of a million, respectively, and might very well be the largest research database in this field in the world.

The person who runs this site would be me. My name is Jan-Erik Nilsson. I live in Sweden and have collected, studied and worked with antique Chinese pottery and porcelain during my entire professional life. In 1963 as I moved to the city of Gothenburg in western Sweden, my interest gravitated towards Chinese porcelain and other treasures that were brought here by the Swedish East India Company (1731-1813), whose world-spanning voyages always departed from and returned to Gothenburg. This interest eventually also led to me helping to initiate the project of recreating and reviving our 18th century China trade by actually building a replica of the wooden frigate - the East Indiaman Gotheborg ship - and have this set sail to China for a new trade voyage, which it did in 2005-2007.

To further my own personal interest in old porcelain and the human and cultural exchange aspect of the old China trade, I decided to turn the name Gotheborg into a web site where I could develop my personal interest in meeting and communicating with people with similar interests in Asian Art. I also felt I would like to share whatever knowledge in this area I had managed to pick up over the years with other collectors, as a starting point.

Most of the initial research that went into the venture in 1998 was already published by me in support of the reconstruction project of the Swedish East Indiaman Gotheborg, lost in 1745. All the way until April 2014 the yellow background color used on most web pages was a sample of a direct scan of the original founding document (Privilegium) of the Swedish East India Company, published in 1731. Most of this earlier material was aimed by me to become a research resource about the Swedish East India trade in general, both material and humanistic. However by and by the content of this site got to focus on my personal area of interest - the human side of the travels, the tracks of cultural exchange it had left and - the Chinese porcelain pieces that was brought to Europe by the millions by this trade. was then something I just wanted to do myself as a tribute to a life-long interest. Instrumental in this was the inspiring example set by my friend and mentor, Professor Bo Gyllensvärd, who had always listened to and encouraged any would-be collector approaching him for help.

I felt I owed something back, and very much wanted his mindset, and certainly that of many other great collectors and scholars throughout history, to be kept alive to encourage an interest in collecting Oriental Ceramic Art, based on an interest in and understanding of the Asian history, its people and its culture.

In his interest in the minyao wares from the people's kilns (i.e. non-Imperial), Bo Gyllensvärd was far ahead of his time, probably somewhat fostered by his close relation to Carl Kempe (1884-1967) and his collection at the Ekolsund Castle, the 'Sung Shards', collected by Dr. Nils Palmgren, whose editing and publication largely fell into Bo's hands and, at the very beginning of Bo's career, his work with the many Neolithic pots collected and brought to Sweden by Johan Gunnar Andersson from the Yangshao and other regions in China. Much of these utilitarian wares showed stunning artistic ability for those who had the understanding and heart to see it.

Carl Kempe Collection at the Castle of Ekolsund

Carl Kempe Collection at the Collection Room at the Castle of Ekolsund, Sweden. From left to right; Jarl Vansvik, Reidun Loose, Bo Gyllensvärd, behind the camera Jan-Erik Nilsson. At my seat at the table are two stem cups and two white Yongle (1403-1424) period, Ming dynasty bowls we are just comparing and studying. Carl Kempe's collection was an invaluable resource to have access to. Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson

Other members of the Gotheborg Discussion Board also have similar homage to pay to their mentors, as in Mike Vermeer to Clarence Shangraw, and both of us to the dear grand old lady of Chinese porcelain, Margaret Medley, to name but two.

Another consideration was that as a collector and art student I felt "alone" compared to the people active in the antiques trade. I felt that we as collectors were at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. The professional dealers had their meeting places and their fairs where they could meet and exchange news but we as buyers and collectors didn't have this. So, I decided to try to create an on-line area, a virtual collector's club, where collectors could meet and discuss their own side of the issues, keeping all advertising and business interests out of the way.

I had some experience in Antiques Road Show types of events at museums and antiques fairs, where I had really enjoyed myself. From these I knew how much people actually wondered about the mysterious pieces left to them by distant relatives and decorated with oriental-looking figures in strange river landscapes, embellished with oversized flowers. What I wanted to do was to hold these authentications on-line - in "broad daylight" so to speak - while allowing anyone with a differing opinion to have their say too. I also did not mind just sitting back and listening, since this is a very difficult area and no one knows everything. However, at that time the internet was young and any functioning standard software was by far not available. This was the time of manual programming - page by page - if you wanted anything.

I began by inviting visitors to email me questions and pictures. I then made a web page out of this and published it, one by one, together with my answers, for every area where I felt I had anything, however small, to contribute. To get feedback, comments were encouraged, also via email, and I also opened a public Guest Book.

The 27th of June 1999 I started an email-based "discussion list", initially with an organization called ONElist, which in February 2000 merged into something called eGroups that eventually was sold to Yahoo.

Old-timers on the mailing list will still remember with a smile the flurry of activity every new question that was posted would set off. Everyone jumped in and tried to be first. It was also crucial that any question was dealt with at once, because as soon as the next question was posted, the threads would somehow be mixed and the interest would be shifted onto the next and the next question.

Well into this project, in April 3, 2000, I got an email from Simon Ng at the City University of Hong Kong, who was also a dedicated collector and wanted to be added to the discussion list. When in July the Marks Section was initiated through a donation of Chinese and Japanese porcelain marks by Karl-Hans Schneider in Euskirchen, Germany, Simon Ng now became the ideal partner in creating the Chinese part of the MARKS section. Today this section is one of the most referenced pages on the site.

A few months later, the 1st of September 2000 was also a lucky day, because that was the day when Mike Vermeer of Vermeer & Griggs in Los Angeles emailed me and asked if he could put up a link to my site. He told me he had planned something similar as I was running but felt he could as well help me out in my efforts instead of doing it himself. That was the beginning of a long and lasting friendship. In my eyes that was the "American spirit" I had read about but never experienced in real life. He eventually joined in on the discussion list, where he has lectured on Imperial porcelain and Chinese taste, special glazes and the appreciation of quality as such, ever since.

In April 23, 2003 Yahoo had grown too busy making money to fit our needs and our messages were drowned in advertising, so a new platform was needed. By recommendation from of our member Lee Inness-Brown, I integrated a very solid discussion board (forum) software with my own website, which we still use. From now on, any number of discussions could go on at the same time, and members could easily upload pictures and choose which discussions they wanted to follow via email or the web browser. And best of all, we could keep everything we wanted to, and nothing would disappear due to some company or service being sold or going bankrupt.

By the end of 2003 I started to piece together all the bits and pieces of information we were often referring to, and collected all this into the GLOSSARY we now have. This is by now the largest and most comprehensive database on Chinese ceramics on the Internet.

In February 2005 my admiration for Georges Bouvier and his specialist's site on Kutani grew into an invitation to join forces. This had actually already begun with John Wocher joining us as a moderator in June 2004, about a year earlier, from which time the Japanese section rapidly became on par with the Chinese section. I know, and am sorry I need to leave out, quite a number of moderators and very important contributors like Scott, Sal, Tommy, Hans, Matt, Ian, IP, Lye, Keith, Tim, David, Sally, Sandra, Elyce and many more who have given their special flavor to the board and contributed greatly over the years, but the point is that this board is a joint effort of I think unique proportions, and in particular when it comes to the quality of the help offered.

Around 2005 our archive of discussion board messages and pictures had grown so large that it was not feasible to run it from a hosted web hotel. The bandwidth cost alone for content distribution was getting out of hand. On Friday the 3rd in January 2006 I signed the contract to have the Discussion Board moved to a separate server of our own. At this time a modest membership fee was introduced to cover the cost while keeping the original policy of our original list to keep it unbiased by any commercial considerations.

Today (in 2014) our Discussion Board hosts more than 250,000 messages and pictures on file, and is growing with about 50,000 images and about the same number of commenting posts per year.

If you decide to join, you will soon find your way around and most certainly have begun to make new collecting friends, from all over the world.

Most welcome as a member.

Jan-Erik Nilsson