Not only does the market remain firm this year, contrary to gloomy predictions of a slump, but also there is increasing evidence of a distinct broadening in the market. By this, we mean that whole areas of new collecting are opening up and that objects once regarded as ‘too academic’, or simply obscure, are becoming the subject of some furious competitive bidding at auction. To a large extent, auctions continue to lead the market: the only public forum for the noting and recording of prices internationally.
It was not so long ago, back in 2012, that good pieces of blue and white were favoured by the market and there were some record prices achieved, both in London and in some provincial salerooms like Tennants in Leyburn, Yorkshire. Now that the supply of high quality pieces of blue and white new to the market is drying up, with only a handful of previously unseen items appearing, the seemingly insatiable appetite, principally from mainland China, for interesting items is broadening into areas hitherto hardly considered for collecting.
A case in point was a Quianlong mark and period hat or wig stand which achieved a stunning £444,240 at Cambridge auctioneers Cheffins on March 27. It is 27cm. high and incorporates what the auctioneers say is ‘a rare gilt café au lait ground together with panels glazed to imitate turquoise’. Not the real thing, you understand. It is intriguingly constructed and reasonably attractive, but you can understand why it was estimated simply at £10,000-20,000. After all, there is not a great history of collecting such obscure objects and until last month they did not appear to be particularly coveted.
In the future, we are sure that there will be more of this type of ‘surprise result’. Auctioneers are realising that a good story may intrigue potential buyers of unusual objects and achieve gratifyingly high prices. On May 15, Bonhams are to sell two highly unusual things: an enormous, quite possibly Imperial, screen and an unusual jade puzzle. The price either will achieve is really anybody’s guess – Bonhams have estimated up to £1.2m. on the screen and are talking about a quarter of a million for the intriguing jade puzzle. Really this is all new territory. Estimates are all very well if the buyers can be tempted into competition and, as we all know, it only takes two bidders so you don’t have to exactly generate worldwide interest . . .
The antiques guru on Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV (accessible in Europe via Freesat) recently singled out Northern and Southern Song pieces as the next big growth area and we recently bid up to £8,000 for a nice piece of purple-splashed jun ware with good provenance, and then let it go to a Chinese buyer on the internet. A few years ago, 5-800 would have been more than adequate to obtain such a piece.
So there are going to be some big prices in the near future for the more unusual items, previously unfavoured. Of course, there may be some disappointments along the road as not been read, or predicted, accurately enough.