Edinburgh auctionneers Lyon & Turnbull held one of their periodic Asian sales in London this week on May 9. An impressive range of objects from the scholar’s desk featured in this particular sale which kicked off with a private collection of no less than 58 scholar’s rocks fashioned from a wide variety of materials. Nearly all of them achieved respectable figures around their estimates in the low thousands.
However, the surprise of the day went to a rare set of 48 Imperial inksticks estimated modestly at £2,000-3,000 which were eventually knocked down at £191,000, inclusive of premium and costs.
They were by Wang Weigao, and were described as ‘Qianlong mark and of the period’.
These finely crafted pieces,comprising forty-eight inksticks contained in two fine gilt-lacquered ‘dragon’ boxes, illustrate the process of cotton cultivation and manufacturing in imperial China, each inkstick delicately carved on the one side with a particular stage of the process, accompanied by a gilt caption, and inscribed and gilt with a poem by Emperor Qianlong on the reverse, one of the inksticks inscribed with a ‘table of contents’, another inscribed with an introductory essay and signed ‘carved by Wang Weigao, supervisor of ink-making in the Imperial Library’ (Yu shu chu jiao xi zao mo jian sheng, chen Wang Weigao juan) . Each inkstick was just 6.9×2.5cm.