Orvar Karlbeck was a Swedish engineer working in China from 1906-1927 as a railroad engineer. From 1908 onwards he was stationed in the Huai valley and he started his personal collection of Huai Valley bronzes, which mainly consisted of minor bronzes like mirrors and belt-hooks dating from the Warring States to Han dynasty period. In 1927 Karlbeck returned to Sweden because China’s political instable situation. However, between 1928 and 1934 Karlbeck returned to China to conducted three collecting expeditions to buy objects for museums and private collectors.
His first collecting expedition in 1928 was conducted on behalf of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm and directed by J.G. Andersson. The consortium was officially named 'the Karlbeck Syndicate'.
The first group of the Karlbeck Syndicate consisted of seventeen Swedish collectors (1929 - 1930): Anders Hellstrom, Countess Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, HRH Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden, Dr Emil Hultmark, Richard Hultmark, Gustaf Werner, Axel Lundgren, Holger Laurtizen, Ivar Trauggott, Gerhard Verstegh, Carl Kempe, Johannes Hellner, Dr Axel Lagrelius, Joseph Sachs, Eric Nydhal, S. Trugger, M. Mansson, O. Falkmans and the 'Rohsshska Konstslojdmusee' in Goteborg. The first expedition on behalf of the international syndicate started in October 1931 and ended in November 1932.
The two trips following were also conducted on behalf of the Karlbeck Syndicate which included, the British Museum, the Berlin State Museum, HRH Gustaf Adolf VI, Charles Seligman and his wife Brenda, Oscar Raphael, Henry Oppenheim and George Eumorfopolous.
After each collecting trip a catalogue was published for its members documenting many of the objects with detailed descriptions and the name of the owner.
The final trip lasted from May until December 1934.
Becoming and expert in his field, Orvar Karlbeck and the Karlbeck Syndicate are an unique example where public institutions and the private collectors unifies in the categorizing and studying the early history of China through material culture, which formed the foundation for the study of Chinese art and archaeology in the West.
Orvar Karlbeck and the Karlbeck Syndicate give an unique insight into the motivations of the collector and collections formed in Northern Europe of ‘Chinese Art’ during the inter-war period. This period defines a time where Western collectors did not only explore China and its archaeological treasures on site but also the growing market for ancient grave goods created new collectors of China’s ancient arts.
Sources: The Karlbeckkonsortiets archive (1928 - 1934) and the Karlbeck Syndicate papers (1930 - 1934), Palmgren (1932, pp. 10-14, Palmgren (1948), Fiskesjo (2004), p. 66, Ostasiatiska Samlingarna Inbudning och Program (1929), Gyllensvard (1972), p. 10- Orvar Karlbeck and the Karlbeck Syndicate (1928 - 1934), Lecture given by Valerie Jurgens on Tuesday 14 March 2006, published in the Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, Volume 70. 2005 - 2006, p. 35 - 37.