We are all used to certain lots at auction going for three or four times the estimate, sometimes as much as ten or twenty times . . . but 100 times the estimate is kind of unusual!
Lot 368 at today’s Lyon & Turnbull sale in Edinburgh looked a fairly pedestrian lot: a blue and white dragon charger with what the auctioneer clearly regarded as an apocryphal Quianlong mark to the base. It was catalogued as late 19th/early 20th century and estimated at £3,000-5,000. In the event, in a long bidding process involving buyers on internet and telephone it sold on the hammer at a staggering £355,000, to an outbreak of applause in the room. In reality, with premium and VAT, it sold for £427,250.
Moment of sale. Blue and white charger, Quianlong or not, knocked down to a telephone bidder for £355,000 by Lyon & Turnbull auctioneer Lee Young Photograph Paul Harris
Auctioneer Lee Young was visibly shocked and was somewhat thrown off his stride in succeeding lots in what was otherwise a fairly muted sale. However, there were two other lots which did do particularly well. The Empress Cixi dragon robe, estimated at £15-25,000, sold for a very respectable £60,000 hammer.
A very fine flambé bottle vase, catalogued with an enigmatic ‘estimate upon request’, sold for £150,000. It was these highlights which carried a sale with many unsold lots, reinforcing the message that things at the top of the market continue to do well.
Of course, whether or not the blue and white charger which commanded the guts of half a million pounds is Quianlong or not must be a matter of opinion. The experts are divided. A member of L&T’s staff said they had been told by many dealers and other auctioneers in London that the charger was the real McCoy. The website www.chineseantiques.co.uk last night published a prediction that it would do well and were clearly impressed by it.
Others in the room who had seen and handled it had rather different opinions. Personally, I thought that whilst it was impressive, it looked distinctly recent and noted it down at £2,000 top bid. Either way, L&T are well covered. After all, they clearly state in the catalogue that it is ‘late 19th/early 20th century’ . . .