Not a lot of people know Taylor’s Auction Rooms, founded as a family business in 1974. A few may have heard of Montrose, a once sleepy fishing port on the east coast of Scotland and which turned to the oil industry during the now long forgotten boom times. But the auction room isn’t exactly Sotheby’s, and Montrose is as far away from Bond Street as it’s possible to imagine.
That having been said, Taylor’s in Montrose was home a couple of weeks ago to what is being termed by the local paper, The Courier, as The Sale of the Century: it’s not often that a couple of bits of Chinese porcelain, one in decidedly distressed condition, shoved into a general sale, sell for 10,000 times the estimate.
It was an apparently modest lot, estimated at £20-30. It went for £200,000 hammer – an estimated £252,000 when commission and VAT is added. The auctioneers, who declined to comment in any detail, were, in local parlance, ‘fair scunnert’ as they ran their calculators over the day’s takings. A spokesman for Taylor’s said, “Unfortunately, we can’t say much more at this time while we are still waiting for the sale to be finalised.” That is, of course, shorthand for “until we get paid”.
10,000 times the £20 estimate . . . it’s got to be the moonflask!
The catalogue described the winning duo as ‘a Chinese blue and white two-handled vase with six character mark’ and ‘a Chinese blue and white pot with four character mark.’ The larger 18.5 cm tall piece looks suspiciously like a moon flask and the smaller one like a baluster vase decorated with prunus leaves. Probably Kangxi. Quite a bit of damage was evident on both and there was evidence of some stapling. However, they were intently viewed by some members of the Scottish antique trade. One confessed that he went to his bank and “drew everything out”. He went to the sale with £60,000 in his pocket but didn’t even get a bid in . . . Chinese internet bidders, who doubtless had never seen the lot except online, racked up the bids until it was a two way contest and someone’s nerve went at nearly a quarter of a million all-in.
This does, of course, raise all sorts of interesting hypotheses. Perhaps, auctioneers would be rather more comfortable with a situation where they were not obliged to make estimates which might turn out to be, let us say, somewhat wide of the mark?
Of course, there is always another possibility. Perhaps, the flask and vase were not quite worth £200,000 plus. We’ve all bought something which looked nice enough on the net but was a trifle disappointing once the box was opened . . .
Note: The last record price at Taylor’s was in 2010 for a photograph album. The family-run business describes itself as ‘one of the leading auction houses in Scotland’ selling 4,000 lots every four weeks (often running two sales in tandem). It employs 50 staff. A few more sales like this and the Bond Street office might be in the offing . . . prepare to move over, Sotheby’s.