Wed, Jan 16, 2013 - Page 12 News List

The price is right

The initial buyer of a rare 18th-century porcelain Qing Dynasty vase failed to pay his own record-setting offer. Now it’s been sold to another collector for less than half the original bid price

By Scott Reyburn  /  Bloomberg, London

A porcelain Chinese vase reportedly made for the Qianlong emperor has been resold by a UK-based auction house for less than half of its original 2010 auction price of US$83 million.


A Chinese vase for which a bidder offered a record US$83 million at auction more than two years ago has been sold for less than half the price the original purchaser failed to pay.

The elaborately decorated 18th-century porcelain vase, described as being made for the Qianlong Emperor, was auctioned by Bainbridges in Ruislip, west London, on Nov. 11, 2010.

The winning bid was more than 50 times the presale estimate. The price, including auction house fees, was a record for any Asian work of art offered at auction. The bid was made by an agent in the room on behalf of the Beijing-based collector, Wang Yaohui, according to a person familiar with the transaction.

The owners, a retired solicitor called Tony Johnson and his mother Gene, waited two years for a resolution. They have now sold the vase to another buyer for an undisclosed price between US$32 million and US$40 million, said a person with knowledge of the matter.

The private transaction was brokered by the London-based auction house Bonhams. The vase has now been exported. The new owner has been identified by dealers as an Asian collector.

“Bonhams is pleased to confirm the sale of the vase for an undisclosed sum, in a private treaty deal,” according to an email from Julian Roup, Bonhams’s director of press and marketing.

House Clearance

“It’s the right price,” the London-based dealer Roger Keverne said in an interview. “That was the figure at which most people were interested when the vase was originally offered. It’s settled to its true value.”

Keverne said dealers would be relieved the two-year non- payment saga had been resolved. “It’s good news,” he said. “This was an itch that needed dealing with. It was at least so far out of the reach of normal trading that it didn’t affect overall levels of confidence. That [US$83] million was a casino price.”

The Qing-dynasty rarity, featuring a pierced “reticulated” body painted in a pastel-colored “famille rose” palette, was discovered during a routine house clearance in the London suburb of Pinner.

In perfect condition, the vase had been owned by William and Pat Newman, who died in 2006 and 2010 respectively. It then passed to Pat Newman’s sister, Gene. It isn’t known how William Newman acquired the piece.

The record bid for the so-called “Ruislip Vase” was the highest of a series of big-ticket prices for imperial Chinese porcelain that were pledged, if not always paid, by Asian bidders at auctions in 2010.

Sale Value

Auction sales of art and antiques in China in 2010 were valued at US$8.6 billion, a 177 percent increase on 2009, according to a European Fine Art Foundation report published in March 2011.

Further auctions and dealer transactions in the West turned the trade in Chinese artifacts into a business worth more than US$10 billion, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Demand for Chinese antiques has since declined as growth in the Chinese economy contracted and western auction houses introduced deposits to deter non-payers.

Though Bainbridges’s original bill for the imperial vase was never met in full, the auction house had received an interim payment, said persons with knowledge of the matter.

Peter Bainbridge, the company’s director, has consistently declined to comment on the non-payment of the vase, citing a confidentiality clause.

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