Reflections on November’s Chinese auctions from an online bidder’s point of view

online auctions3  We wrote a few weeks ago about the plethora of Chinese art auctions during November, the difficulties of getting around them all and our decision to, instead, bid online ( Well, it has certainly been a highly instructive experience to attempt to do all our buying online and we thought it might be interesting to record our very mixed experiences.

In all, we bid on just nine auctions, two of which we viewed and the balance viewed either online or from a catalogue supplied by the auctioneers. Bidding was generally successful in digital terms although there some notable failures. We registered on Dreweatts own site for their Asian Sale at Castle Donnington. Unfortunately, it was a disaster. We were interested in the section in which the Peter Arlidge Collection of Song ceramics was to sold and had identified three lots we were determined to buy. Horror of horrors, when we depressed the BID button, absolutely nothing happened and it was clear our bids were not registering at all. We rebooted and re-registered but the bids we made took so long to register that the lots were sold before we could get into the running. In one instance, by the time our bid of £110 was registered on the screen, bidding had already reach £700! We got nothing and were very disappointed . . .

We successfully bid in the Lyon & Turnbull London sale (having previously viewed it) although there was anasty shock using the Invaluable site: after just three lots (none of which we bid on) an electronic notice flashed up on the screen saying se had exhausted our £10,000 credit limit! I had a sudden fear that our feline friend had wandered across the keyboard and bid on our behalf! Fortuitously, I had L&T’s number in London and called them and they reinstated our ability to bid with a new £50,000 limit.

Later in the week, we viewed a sale at Borders Auctions in Hawick which had a couple of dozen serious Chinese interest items. The night before the sale we filed a dozen Autobids with This turned out to be a lucky move as the connection with the auction came and went with multiple freezes which lasted for five or ten minutes a time. In the event, we got everything we wanted using our recorded auto-bids. If we had relied on bidding live we might have just got half of them.

The other sales we participated in went much more smoothly. Having bid successfully, of course, we then had the challenge of getting our lots back to our location in the Scottish Borders. We found the prices quoted by The-Saleroom’s affiliate Mailboxes Etc far too expensive: on one three-figure lot bought from Dukes, the cost of packing and carriage exceeded the cost of the lot itself. We got a much more competitive price from the specialist fine art carriers Aardvark which was a third of that quoted by Mailboxes Etc. From a couple of the houses, we drove and collected ourselves which was cheaper and less stressful.

Our verdict on the success or otherwise of our experimental new strategy has to be that physical attendance at a sale where there are items of even modest interest has to be a must. We shall probably bid in fewer auctions, but we shall try to get there ourselves and simply put the miles on the clock rather than hours behind the screen!

Busy, indeed, but no sensations . . . we look at an auction-packed week

Last week was one of the busiest weeks of the year in the UK Chinese art market calendar with major Asian auctions held at Chiswick Auctions, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury (Donnington Priory), Woolley & Wallis (Salisbury) and Duke’s in Dorchester. We attended all these auctions and, indeed, were buyers at all four and, further, visited Halls in Shrewsbury to collect purchases from the previous week’s Asian sale.

Prices held steady throughout all the auctions. There was no evidence of any collapse in the Chinese market. There were Chinese buyers evident at all the sales. There were not so many of them as in recent years but those who were evident on the ground were all serious buyers. Good things, generally speaking, sold well and although there were no sensations in terms of prices achieved, there were good solid results at all the houses.

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Calm before the storm. Chiswick auction room before the sale. Picture by Paul Harris

In financial terms, the Chiswick sale was particularly good for the auction house and its vendors. A large number of lots estimated in the low hundreds climbing into the many thousands surprised those of us in the room. A pile of sundry books sold for £2,000 (one particular book being a sought after item). The sale started well with the first 69 lots coming from the collection of John Marriott and Count R L Sangorski. Purchased from major dealers like Spink and auction houses like Christies, these lots, many accompanied by the original invoices, sold spectacularly well, generally exceeding their estimates. Progress during the sale was painfully slow thanks to half a dozen telephone lines in almost constant use and the usual internet bidders. Around 50 lots per hour was achieved.

For Chiswick, this was their best sale ever seen in its 25 year history. It achieved an 85% sold rate with 82 lots from the Marriott collection bringing in £84,000 including premium. There were also strong results from Transitional period blue and white and photographic albums up for sale.May auctions (32)

Dreweatts sale at Donnington Priory  Photo by Paul Harris

At Dreweatts & Bloomsbury’s delightfully sited auction  room at Donnington Priory, near to Newbury, things were a little less frenetic despite there being several internet connections for bidders. The auctioneer welcomed the fact that there were around 40 active buyers in the room (approximately half Chinese) and commented on how unusual it was. Despite the many ways available to buy (half a dozen telephone lines, four Internet servers and room bidding), it was still possible to buy well, especially for those in the room. Chinese buyers ascribed their good luck to the presence in the room of a large ceramic statue of the Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung!

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Mao Tse Tung presided over the Asian Sale at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury, Donnington Priory.  Photo by Paul Harris courtesy Chinese Art in Scotland

There were certainly a few ‘sleepers’. We think we found one in the form of a mid-to-late 19th century Chinese stick stand very well decorated with dragons and bearing the original label of the vendor, Charles Sleight of London’s Royal Arcade, which pinned down the date of sale to the 1880s.

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Dragon decoration on a 19th century stick stand sold by Charles Sleight, London, around 1880. Photo by Paul Harris

At the same time as the Dreweatts sale there was day one of the Woolley & Wallis two day sale in Salisbury. The first day always tends to be the most expensive at Woolleys and this was no exception. There were many lots in five figures but no sensations. The sale was dominated by telephone internet with only a dozen or so people in the room. This number was considerably larger the following day, a reflection of the more modest, attainable prices. However, if you had wanted the catalogue raisonne of the ceramic works in the Imperial Palace Museum, Beijing, you would not have got it for a few hundred pounds . . .  it was knocked down after competitive bidding at £11,000! Stands also fared particularly well: one lot with half a dozen rather attractive stands got £3,800. There were few bargains to be had, all in all.

For those who needed a rest from the seemingly relentless circuit, Thursday was a day of rest, so to speak. We took the opportunity to view the Friday sale at Duke’s in Dorchester. Amongst the fine things seen was a large, black jade Buddha which would actually fail to sell! We spotted a number of things, however, which we were able to secure bidding on the Internet the following day.

113 dukes Sold at Duke’s

Famille rose box with relief moulded figures and Qianlong mark to base but probably later, £1170 inclusive of premium


Unusual ‘Kiangnan’ vase to come up at Dukes

pear shape kiangnan vase

An unusual type of Chinese vase, once popular with significant collectors, comes up at Dukes in Dorchester on Friday May 20. A so-called Kiangnan vase (Kiangnan, also known as Jiangnan, is the name given to the region around the Yangtse River delta in southern China) the genre is known for its creamy ‘ostrich egg’ glaze with fine crackles.

Dukescatalogue it as ‘Lot 125 A LARGE CHINESE KIANGNAN PEAR-SHAPED VASE with a long neck, covered in a creamy ‘ostrich egg’ glaze with fine crackles, one side with a subtle foliate pattern, Ming, 20.5″ (52cm) high

‘Provenance: Bluett & Sons, London 1940. J.C. Thomson Collection. Private collection, South Wales.

‘So-called Kiangnan Ting ‘ostrich egg’ glazed vases of this type were highly sought after by collectors in the mid-20th century. Sir William Burrell acquired a piece from Bluetts in 1943 which is now in the Glasgow collections. Lord Cunliffe also bought one from Bluetts for £75 in 1947 which was exhibited at the 1948 OCS Exhibition (no. 140). For published examples see A.L. Hetherington “The Early Ceramic Wares of China”, 1922 pl.22; and Hobson and Hetherington “The Art of the Chinese Potter”, 1923, pl.61.’

The vase is most reasonably estimated at £1,500-3,000. Given its established provenance, it will surely do much better than that

Some interesting lots feature in Dreweatts 2-day sale

Over the next ten days, with the Asian sale season not yet upon us, four English auction houses have some very mixed sales with Chinese lots cropping up randomly. As we have a penchant here for the curious and the unusual, these general sales (often termed ‘Interiors’) seem to turn up intriguing items which have somehow not made it into the specialist Asian sales. For the buyer, that can be good news as occasionally it cuts down on the competition! H0442-L88863219 Lot 238 at Dreweatts Four large Chinese porcelain figures of Lenin, Stalin and Mao (43-67cm. high) probably dating from the late 1950s or the 1960s. Estimate £4-600. We wrote a couple of days ago about Duke’s upcoming sale on February 18 and 19 ( Also Gorringes in Sussex ( have an Interiors Sale on February 23 with many Chinese lots, and Dreweatts at Donnington Priory have an Interiors Sale on February 23 and 24 which boasts over 100 Chinese lots on the 23rd. On the 24th, they are selling the contents of Cherkley Court, the former home of newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook. Cherkley is a late Victorian mansion near Leatherhead in Surrey, bult in 1893 in the French chateau-style. It was bought by Lord Beaverbrook in 1911 and was filled with antiques and miscellanea. There are a few Chinese items and several lots feature ‘lamped’ vases and stands. One of these seems interesting to us. Lot 319 is a very large Chinese yellow ground baluster vase, probably early 20th century. Standing at nearly 54cm. high, the honeycomb ground encloses flower heads reserved with panels of Taotie masks and Buddhistic lion masks, the shoulders decorated with wufu and shou medallions. It is an imposing piece and is estimated at £600-900. Cheap, if it falls within that price range. 319 Lot 319 at Dreweatts  Large and imposing lamped vase.

We have just been made aware that Hannam’s (Selborne, Hampshire) also have a Fine Antiques & Collectables sale on February 18/19 which features a large number of Chinese items (

Duke’s sale hosts some interesting curiosities

Dukes of Dorchester have a two day sale coming up next week (February 18-19) which is marked by a high standard of entries: An Important European Private Collection, Ceramics, Asian Art & Furniture. The private European Collection is the source of the first day’s entries. It is the second day of the sale which will be of most interest to the Asian art enthusiast with more than 440 Chinese, Korean and Japanese lotss although Lot 52 on the first day stands out as an item of some interest to collectors in the field of Chinese export art.

dukes 52

Lot 52 at Dukes  Estimated at £2,000 – £4,000

Lot 52 is a Chinese export lacquer model of a paddle steamer. It is beautifully and intricately crafted with a central red funnel flanked by twin-lidded compartments with gilt decoration of figues and buildings in landscapes, the lifting to reveal further compartments. The ship is on rotating paddles and decorated with stylised waves, 25 inches in length. It has some provenance – having been acquired from Mallett Antiques in London. It was probably made in the early 19th century and there is a similar model in The Peabody Essex Collection in the US, and there is some record of one formerly in the collection of the Earl of Perth. The present one for sale is estimated modestly at £2,000-4,000.

Dukes 699

Lot 699 at Dukes also estimated at £2,000-4,000

Our eye was also taken by Lot 699 which is said to emanate from ‘a West Dorset manor house’. It is a massive blue and white covered vase painted with creatures and trees and the lid sporting a biscuit lion finial. Quianlong and a massive 52.5 in in height, it  again appeared to be far too modestly estimated at £2,000-4,000. However magnificent it appears from the front when you first look at it, alas, there absolutely no back to the piece – half of it has simply disappeared in some terrible accident and, apparently, nobody thought to collect the pieces! Quelle domage!

Indeed, the Dukes estimates in the catalogue tend to be modest. There are some very beautiful small objects in the sale – in jade, hardstone and wood – which we predict will do very well indeed.

An Important European Private Collection, Ceramics, Asian Art & Furniture Dukes Auctioneers, Brewery Square, Dorchester DT1 1GA  Lots 1-511 on Thursday February 18; Lots 600-1247 on Friday February 19.

No sign of market collapse in recent auctions

There has been no sign of market collapse in the many recent auctions and, as ever, quality pieces of Chinese art have not only sustained their values but appear to have climbed considerably. We have recently reported on the success of snuff bottles (Bonhams Edinburgh ) and Chinese lots sold in Wales (Peter Francis Carmarthen ), There was also a most West country successful sale at Dukes in Dorchester where a wide range of lots achieved very substantial prices well in excess of their estimates. Lyrically entitled In Pursuit of the Scholar’s Spirit, the sale, held on November 12, was notable for many five figure prices. The sale started with a Chinese sancai cup (Lot 1), which sold for £15,860 against a modest £2,000 estimate. Dukes bamboo brush pot A small 4.5in. high 18th century bamboo brushpot achieved £58,000 (plus 22% premium) on the back of the high quality of its carving and auspicious nature of the subject matter, depicting the goddess Yaochi Jinmu (Queen Mother of the West) holding court within her palace on the mythological Mount Kunlun. It was accompanied by a 1984 receipt from Spink showing that it had been purchased for £700. It was one of 159 lots which came from a substantial private collection said to have been formed by a member of The Oriental Ceramics Society over a period of almost half a century from the 1950s onwards. Other items included dukes parcel-gilt double phoenix bronze scroll weight £51,240 Chinese parcel-gilt bronze ‘double phoenix’ scroll weight sold for £51,240 (incl.) dukes green jade horse A large green jade recumbent horse sold for £63,440 (incl.) dukes cloisonne miniature vase 46,000 A Chinese cloisonné miniature vase sold for £46,000 hammer

Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury held a 2-day sale and although they failed to sell the much vaunted Imperial clock (, there were a number of substantial prices. The highest price of the sale was achieved by a deep Chinese 40.6 cm. blue and white basin which got £74,000 hammer against an estimate of £2-3,000. In many respects it was a fairly ordinary piece of porcelain from the first half of the 19th century but the presence of a dragon in the centre of the piece probably served to get buyers excited, despite the absence of a mark.

222 woolley wallis  £74,000 basin washed its face at Woolley & Wallis

The message from recent sales is unequivocal: the best, or the unusual, will always sell if the reserve is not set too high. Vendors need to have the courage to submit their lots and let the market decide. However, the era of silly prices for practically anything are now well and truly over.

John Walden Collection of Chinese art to be sold by Dukes

john walden collection Jade conch shell from the Walden sale

The Dorset Echo newspaper reports that the collection of Chinese art that belonged to John Walden the famous Hong Kong administrator and pro-democracy campaigner will be sold by Dukes of Dorchester this week, on November 14.

Apparently referred to as JCC to friends – and Jesus Christ in China to some others – Walden was a significant political figure in Hong Kong during the second half of the 20th century. He died last year. He began his career in Hong Kong after graduating from Cambridge and served in various roles until he became Director of Home Affairs from 1976 until retirement in 1980. He also worked as a Justice of the Peace. Walden remained in Hong Kong until 2010 when he returned to live in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

john walden John Walden, Hong Kong

His collection contains a number of jade pieces including a yellowish-white jade dragon and phoenix pendant possibly from the Han dynasty and potentially an important discovery. The three inch long piece is estimated to sell for up to £10,000 pounds, but it is thought that it could well exceed that figure.  Andrew Marlborough from Duke’s said: “We are delighted to have been asked to handle this sale which it is hoped will serve both to celebrate John Walden’s love of Chinese art and culture and his lifelong dedication to the people of Hong Kong.

A Dukes spokesman said, “He took early retirement in order to become an independent political commentator, activist and author. Walden’s taste conformed to traditional ideas of connoisseurship but his real passion was for jade.”

Walden’s daughter Vanessa Hibbert described her first childhood visit with her father to Dunt and King’s shop in Hong Kong. She said: “I would stand with my curious nose and inquisitive eyes level with the counter top, whilst these two gentlemen turned over pieces of smooth jade in their fingers and murmured at the beauty of the pieces they examined.”

The Asian sale on November 14 includes other Chinese items, as well as Japanese and Indian art and Indo-Javanese bronzes.