Antiques dealer gives new value to old art

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Antiques dealer gives new value to old art


Kim Young-bok, one of the founders of Auction Dan, hopes to promote Korean culture through his new antiques shop, which is located in Insa-dong, central Seoul. By Ahn Seong-sik

Kim Young-bok, 56, is proud to say that his love for Korean culture runs deeper than that of anyone else. Since the 1970s he has fed his passion while working at Tongmunkwan in Insa-dong, the oldest book store in Korea, founded in 1934.

Today, Kim is an antiques dealer and he has just opened an auction house in Insa-dong, a neighborhood that draws high numbers of Koreans and foreign visitors. He hopes the shop will bring people closer to traditional art.

“Once you know the attractiveness of Insa-dong it is hard to forget,” said Kim. “It was also at the center of the development of Korean studies in the ’70s and ’80s. At Tongmunkwan, we were taught that if we wanted to sell books in the right way, we had to be more knowledgeable than the buyers. Once, we had to master one book written in hanja [Chinese characters] in just a day.”

People may recognize Kim from the KBS program, “TV Show Jinpummyeongpum,” which invites people to bring in old items for appraisal. As one of the personalities on the show, Kim helps curious antique holders determine what their treasures may be worth.

“If we were to put this into the perspective of stocks, contemporary art would be a high risk asset while antique art pieces would be more like blue-chip stocks,” said Kim.

Kim gained much of his experience with antiques while working at Tongmunkwan and by looking through old texts.

During his time at Tongmunkwan, he became concerned about what he thought was a reluctance on the part of art lovers to invest in antiques. He started Auction Dan with the aim of reviving the antique market.

“The traditional arts have not fared as well as contemporary art forms,” Kim said. “More and more customers are hesitant to buy antiques because a piece that costs 1 million won in one store sells for 3 million won in another. Auction Dan will create a bridge between consumers and sellers and build trust through transactions that are transparent.”

Kim also pointed out that it is difficult for most people to appreciate the beauty of antique books because they are unfamiliar with hanja.

Working with a group of specialists, Auction Dan will create translation programs and an online database that helps people become familiar with the texts of antique books. The company, which Kim founded with 20 of his friends, will also hold exhibitions featuring the works of forgotten writers and distribute newsletters to further spread the word.

“I’ve always wondered why there isn’t an association to promote Korean cultural studies when there is one for sports,” said Kim. “Now I will be putting my ideas into action.”

Kim plans to meet with antique lovers every three months to keep up with his customers’ tastes and promote his business.

The first auction is scheduled to take place in March. To learn more about Auction Dan, visit

By Chung Jae-suk []
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