Edinburgh-based auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull today sold in Hong Kong the so-called Thornhill Cup, a blue and white ‘dragon’ stem cup, for an impressive HK$ 36 million, approximately £3,170,000 in sterling. The rare and important item was valued at between £2m. and £4m. so the price was perfectly respectable.
The Thornhill Cup
Initially, bidding was fast with several bidders in the room and a bidder on the telephone. Once the bidding passed 25 million, it slowed into what appeared to be a thoughtful battle between the bidder on the phone and a bidder in the room. Bidding rose in increments of HKD 500,000 before eventually being knocked down in the room for 36m. HKD. At the time the hammer fell, that equated to just over £3,169,000. The hammer price if, of course, subject to a buyer’s premium of 25% on the first HK$800,000, 20% up to 15m. and thereafter 12% which take the price well over £3.5m.
The cup was sold on behalf of Staffordshire University which was bequeathed the artefact by London pharmacist and collector Ernest Thornhill. Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University, Rosy Crehan said today: “This is a fabulous result for the University of Staffordshire, it will allow us to care for and display the Thornhill Collection for future generations to enjoy. The funds raised will allow the remaining pieces of Chinese Oriental Ceramics to be curated, conserved and enjoyed in a new Ceramic Education and Research Facility. This is something Ernest Thornhill always hoped for and I am pleased that we will now be able to make his dream come true. ”
Edinburgh-based auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull have already chased the Chinese market with a series of auctions near to the capital, London, and now they are going the whole hog with a May 31 sale in Hong Kong. Even on their own website, they term it ‘An Adventure’.
It is certainly that. It is also something of a gamble. In Hong Kong, they will, of course, be on the doorstep of the greatest repository of serious buyers of Chinese art. It is, arguably, the best way to reach that market but it still represents a financial and reputational gamble. If the gamble comes off, L&T will be in clover but if, for some reason, it fails then the cost will be enormous. Reputational most but also in terms of costs (getting there, setting up the auction, shipping, staff, etc.) which will represent a multiple of effecting the same operation on home territory.
L&T have produced what is probably their finest catalogue ever: size bumped up to full A4 and printed on the best heavy 180gsm glossy art paper. In the 198 page catalogue, the 151 lots in the sale are described in more than usual detail. Only the very best has made it into the catalogue and the star of the show has to be the so-called Thornhill Cup, which we wrote about in February http://chineseart.co.uk/news/high-hopes-for-sale-of-the-so-called-thornhill-cup/. Xuande mark and period, it is estimated at an ambitious UK £2-4 million, sent for sale by Staffordshire University who have owned it since 1944 following the bequest of collector Eric Thornhill. In many ways, the whole sale hinges on this one item . . .
The Thornhill Cup to be sold by Lyon & Turnbull