Story of a singular Shanghai detective

GIFTS brought home to the Midlands by a postie turned Shanghai detective whose 35-year-service saw him smash dangerous opium gangs of the early 20th century are coming up for auction in Lichfield.

Albert Henry Aiers joined Shanghai Municipal Police in 1903 and worked his way up over the ensuing decades to become assistant commissioner by the time he returned to England in 1938.

Now a collection marking his career features in Richard Winterton’s Fine Arts & Specialist Sale at The Lichfield Auction Centre, Wood End Lane, Fradley Park, on Wednesday, December 11.

It includes the rare gold first edition photograph album by AH Fong, ‘The Sino-Japanese Hostilities 1937 Shanghai’, pictured here, containing 200 photos of the conflict.

Fong was the main police photographer at the time and a renowned figure in Shanghai.

READ MORE: December 2019 Fine Arts & Specialist Sale preview

Other lots in the auction include a Chinese silver shield and a silver bowl bestowed as leaving gifts on Albert, who returned to Bordesley Green because his wife was sick of living in fear in ‘lawless’ Shanghai.


Pictured above from left: Albert Aiers as a postman in 1900, with the Shanghai Police in his summer uniform in 1903 and in retirement at home in Birmingham.

Originally a Post Office boy, Albert joined the force aged 18 in order to get to Shanghai. His three brothers also followed in his footsteps.

If it was a move borne out of a thirst for adventure, Albert must surely have received the excitement he craved.

“He was a detective in the Shanghai Police and was heavily involved in the investigation of opium gangs,” said Albert’s grandson Keith Franklin, 67, from Walsall.

“It was a time when you would be walking around with a revolver – he told me the place was totally lawless.

“One of the gangs he helped take down was the notorious Central Robber Gang.

“I understand AH Fong gave him the photograph album as part of his leaving present – he was presented with trunkfuls of things to take back to England.

“But unfortunately my grandmother did not like being in Shanghai, she never really felt safe there and didn’t particularly want all these reminders.

“So when they were living in England she paying everyday bills such as the butcher and the baker with all manner of treasures from China!”


Pictured above: Albert Aiers’ grandson Keith Franklin with Aiers’ passport and a photograph showing the downfall of the Central Robber Gang in Shanghai, 1938. Detective Aiers is pictured to the left of the photo, wearing a trilby hat.

Keith’s mum Glenys Franklin, who died in January 2019, was brought up in Shanghai until she was 12. Her sister was taken prisoner by the Japanese during the Second World War.

Also up for auction is a silver-headed cane which is understood to have belonged to Albert’s brother Thomas.

The items will be sold in Richard Winterton Auctioneers’ Fine Arts & Specialist Sale at The Lichfield Auction Centre, Wood End Lane, Fradley Park, WS13 8NF on December 11, commencing 10am.

Viewing takes place on Saturday, December 7, 9.30am-12noon; Tuesday, December 10, 9am-4pm; and on day of sale from 8.30am.

Auctioneer Richard Winterton said: “Albert Aiers’ story is just so utterly fascinating. To think of the sheer nerve of someone aged just 18 deciding to enrol in a police force in a far-flung place such as Shanghai and then to end up embroiled in dangerous investigations involving opium gangs – if it was adventure he craved then he surely received it!

“Albert must have done his job extremely well and he was clearly respected and admired by his colleagues who showered him with gifts when the time came to return to England for good after three decades’ service.

“This album of photographs by AH Fong, ‘The Sino-Japanese Hostilities 1937 Shanghai’, is particularly fascinating. It really brings the past to life and gives one another insight into the world of Albert Aiers.

“The photo album is valued at £2,000 and we have given the collection as a whole a conservative estimate of around £3,500 but in reality it could fetch a far greater sum given the fascinating backstory.

“It has been a delight to make our own investigations into the history of a singular Shanghai detective!”

Richard Winterton’s December Fine Arts & Specialist Sale also features a stunning single owner collection of Robert Thompson of Kilburn ‘Mouseman’ furniture; an abstract oil by Dutch painter, sculptor and poet Karel Appel; and a bottle of The Bowmore limited edition 1968 distillation Islay single malt whisky which could fetch £5,000.

An automobilia section includes a 1974 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, a restored 1948 Morris Eight E Series four door saloon and the private car registration 69 BOB.

Richard Winterton's Fine Arts & Specialist Sale on Wednesday, December 11, commences 10am. Viewing is on Saturday, December 7, from 9.30am-12noon; Tuesday, December 10, 9am-4pm; and on day of sale from 8.30am.

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