“Well well, didn’t that do well – I am off for a pint.”
That was the response to the Auctioneer (as reported in the Mirror) of the happy purchaser who attained a Chinese vase that made 150 times its auction estimate at a sale at Auctioneers Lawrences of Crewkerne, Somerset.
Everyone loves a discovery in the art market and “sleepers” (works that have not been correctly attributed or priced at auction that go on to be worth vastly more than the pre-sale estimate and selling price) often attract excitable press coverage.
This colourful Chinese Tibetan Temple Vase stands a little over 25cm in height.
The Antiques Trade Gazette (ATG) described it as “finely decorated in famille rose enamels with the Bajixiang, the Eight Buddhist Emblems, divided by lotus heads and scrolls.”
Most importantly, the vase has the iron red six character seal for the fifth Quing Emperor Jaiqing (1796-1820) on the base of the vase.
Vases such as this were used during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong but this vessel carries a seal for his imperial successor.
Imperial vessels are highly prized and this explains the high level of interest in this work.
In this case, the auctioneer, Neil Grenyer, believed the work to be a 20th Century copy, an example stemming from the Republican period, which began in 1912 and therefore gave a pre-sale estimate of £1,200 to £1,500. It seemed the Auctioneer took a cautious view and was unconvinced that it was an original.
According to news reports, the exact provenance of the work is unknown. The vendors, two brothers from Wiltshire inherited the vase 30 or 40 years ago when their grandparents died and since then it had rested on a mantelpiece at one of their homes. It is understood that their ancestors purportedly brought it back from Shanghai where its owner had been working as a solicitor and may have acquired it around 1910 or 1920.
On the day of the auction on 19th January 2017, there was intense competition for this porcelain work. Telephone biding for this work quickly drove the price up to above £200,000 before the bidders in the room even gained a chance to participate such was the desire for the work.
According to the Mirror, when bidding reached £240,000, there were still four bidders in contention – three on the telephone and one online.
Clearly the bidders may have believed the work to be an original Imperial vase after all.
According to the Antiques Gazette the bidding finally came down to a contest between a prominent Hong Kong dealership and a well-known London dealer.
The hammer fell on an incredible £305,000 and everyone watched in amazement.
This was also a great surprise for the Sellers.
Whether or not the auctioneer has wrongly attributed the work as a late copy is a matter for debate by experts and we may never know for sure.
According to Lawrences, they have got it right and no one has come forward and confirmed the dating of the work to be different to their description.
The sale of this vase is, however, another example in a long line of works sold at auction for prices far exceeding their pre-sale estimates. From ornate china plates, to antique ewers to intricately set wooden cabinets, the list of these so called ‘sleepers’ is expanding.
Whilst sleepers maybe exciting news for buyers (as they represent a find), they can sometimes be less of a comfort to sellers, who may have not appreciated the true worth of their artwork/s.
At the ADDG, our team help sellers to obtain pre-sale valuations, pre-sale expert opinions and assist with the sales process at auction and through private treaty sales.
We help sellers and buyers undertake due diligence pre-sale and encourage parties to take an informed approach before sales are conducted and purchases are made.
Please watch this space for news of any future sleeper news stories.