Megadeal secures ‘Min’ Fanglei archaic bronze

It was scheduled to be sold in public yesterday by Christie’s in a single lot sale. It was, indeed, sold March 19, a day early, and the sale was by secret, private treaty. All we know is that this extraordinary piece, an archaic Western Zhou (possibly Shang) bronze known as the ‘Min’ Fanglei, or square piece, was sold for a figure in excess of US$20m. (yes, twenty million US dollars).

min fanglei

It was previously sold at Christie’s in New York in March 2001 for US$9m, then a record for a Chinese archaic bronze. The purchaser was rumoured to have been an Italian collector who has just died. His wife offered it for sale. That means a tremendous profit on the piece over a period of thirteen years: a profit which reflects the soaring prices for many categories of Chinese art, especially for fine Western Zhou pieces.

This particular piece is a massive bronze ritual wine vessel, reckoned to be one of the finest to ever come on the market. It was estimated pre-sale at US$15m. and an offer was made in the last few days of $20m. This was rejected by the owner and, accordingly, we understand, the successful bid was well in excess of $20m.

It has been bought, it is understood, by a group of wealthy collectors, many of whom come from, or have interests in, China’s Hunan Province. They have agreed, it is said, to donate the piece to the Hunan Museum which already possesses a lid, thought to be from this particular vessel, and which is rich in fine Western Zhou works.

The provenance is excellent. It has been owned or handled by many illustrious collectors: A W Bahr, C F Yau and C T Loo among them.

Antique Dealers’ Fair in north England reveals ‘important’ Chinese treasure


A three day fair March 7-9, organised by Antique Dealers’ Fairs Ltd. at the Linden Hall Hotel in Northumberland, revealed a treasure said from China last night to be ‘important and highly unusual’.

Southport, England, dealer Alan Dawson of Odyssey Ancient & Mediaeval Antiquities, offered for sale a Chinese Western Zhou dynasty (771-445BC) bronze ceremonial spear head in remarkable condition. What is particularly notable about it is that it still retains much of its original chromium oxide surface coating.


Alan Dawson shows off the ancient Western Zhou spearhead

The Chinese developed the use of chromium oxide, as a way of tackling bronze corrosion, as early as the 8th century BC, a technology which was lost to the West until as late as the 18th century.

On this, probably unique, piece the chromium surface, allied with extremely desiccant burial conditions, have left the decorative spear head in a remarkable state of preservation. It is almost certainly a spear which would not have been used in fighting but rather as a ritual piece in grand ceremonies. Pieces of this age and state of preservation are extremely rare.

Within a few hours of the opening of the Northumberland fair, the spear head was purchased by Chinese Art in Scotland ( Speaking from Beijing last night, China Director of Chinese Art in Scotland, Ms Sun Yumei, said, “We are very excited by this purchase. It is a very important piece. Our representative sent us pictures from the Fair after it opened and we immediately issued a buy order. The seller, Mr Dawson, had already done significant research on it, which easily confirmed our decision. Examples of this quality are extremely rare. Apart from its utilitarian interest, it is also an object of exquisite beauty. Today, there are many new museums in China who are keen to acquire ancient objects and we very much hope it will end up in a museum.”

Very similar spear heads were exhibited in 2009 at Hunan Museum’s special exhibition Phoenix Dance. Following this exhibition, a film was made entitled Ancient Chinese Bronze Weapons (Producer Beijing Global Net TV Productions). Western Zhou Ceremonial spearheads are featured in the film.   The Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art Collection also has examples and, for an almost identical one, see The History of Steel in East Asia Exhibition (Macao Museum of Asian Art, 2006).

Allan Dawson has dealt full time in antiquities for 15 years and part-time for 35 years. Before that he was a schoolteacher and says he became interested in antiquities after researching them for school information sheets. He lives and works in Southport, England.


Part of The Odyssey stand at the Linden Hall Hotel Antiques Fair (March 7-9)