Professor Augustine Vinh

Crock pot of gold

Chinese porcelains

By Marilyn Ong -  The Star

Sunken treasures ! The very words conjure up dazzling visions of romance and adventure on the high seas. Professor Augustine Vinh speaks on the perils of collecting sunken treasures.

Internationally acclaimed sunken treasure hunter and collector Professor Augustine Vinh does not at all comply with one’s image of a treasure hunter — deeply-tanned and with rock solid physique.

“I don’t dive nor scour the sea beds, picking up centuries-old porcelain and pottery,” smiles the scholarly-looking Vietnamese-American, who lectures on business management at National University of Vietnam. “I am more of an advisor and, occasionally, I provide funding for expeditions. At 60, I really should not be deep-sea diving!”

Born in Haton outside Hanoi, Prof Vinh got his first degree in foreign affairs and went on to do his MBA at Georgetown University in Washington DC. His interest was piqued in 1976 when he was doing his Masters in Foreign Service in Philadelphia.

“I went to a flea market looking for a Chinese porcelain flower vase. I was a student and could not afford the one I liked, which cost US$10. So I pointed to an old, dirty vase which I could clean and make good as new. To my horror, it was more expensive at US$50!

“I was so naive I assumed all old stuff had less value than new ones. The new vase was so pretty and shiny but the dirty one cost more! I was shocked but learned my first lesson — antiques had value!”

The fascinated young man stood enthralled and decided there and then to invest in antiques and make money.

“But I was still naive and thought it would be easy to buy and sell such antiques,” he says.

And so began a love affair that continues unabated to this day. “I worked hard and spent all my salary on antiques, buying Chinese vases, bowls and plates in America. I was more interested in quantity and built a nice collection which was my pride and joy.”