Asian Antiques Appraisals And Valuations

Set of four painted polychrome works sells for $851,000 to a bidder from China

A set of four Chinese polychrome decorated wall plaques sold for $851,000 at a Maynards auction in Vancouver on Sept. 19.

A quartet of Chinese polychrome decorated wall plaques offered at auction on Sept. 19 carried an estimate of $2,000 to $3,000. But bidding quickly took off, and when the hammer came down the plaques had sold for $851,000 — the highest price Maynards has received for an antique in its 110-year history.

“It started off with about eight bidders,” said Hugh Bulmer of Maynards.

“We had bids on the telephone, bids online, and a lot of people in the room with cellphones glued to their ears. They took it up to about $100,000, and a couple dropped out.

“We got up to about $500,000 and we were down to three. And in the last stages, we were down to someone in the room and someone on the telephone, and it got knocked down to our purchaser on the telephone at the end.”

There has been a huge surge in demand for Chinese art and antiques worldwide in recent years, and thanks to the Internet a Vancouver auctioneer like Maynards can attract an international clientele. Last December, Maynards sold a collection of Chinese jade for $1.3 million, attracting about 180 bidders from 68 different countries.

The top piece in the jade sale went for $736,000, and sold to a local buyer. The winning bidder for the wall plaques was from China, although he was bidding through an intermediary in the United States.

The plaques were painted by artist Cheng Men, probably around 1900. They feature exquisite images of a solitary figure (a warrior, a musician, a fisherman, and a camper) relaxing underneath a tree, and each is accompanied by a poem.

Bulmer thinks they were probably made as a gift. Shortly after they were completed, they were sold to a European in China. His descendants now live in North Vancouver and took them to Maynards.

“They were downsizing and wanted to move their Chinese pieces,” said Bulmer.

Maynards had an inkling the plaques might take off — a pair of porcelain wall plaques by Cheng Men sold for $79,300 US at a Bonhams auction in San Francisco in 2010.

“We knew it was going to go well,” said Bulmer. “We had a lot of interest, we did a lot of pre-sale condition reports. So we were ready for excitement, but really, I didn’t think it was going to go that high.”

The same family also consigned the second-highest item in the auction, a set of four Chinese polychrome decorated porcelain panels that sold for $40,250. It sold to the same bidder from China.

“It’s a client we’ve sold to before, so we’ve done a bit of due diligence before accepting (his bids),” said Bulmer. “You have to these days, it’s such a huge problem.”

He was referring to difficulties that auction houses sometimes have collecting from winning bidders. In 2010, Maynards sold a Chinese porcelain platter for $506,000, but the buyer refused to pay.

Maynards had offered the platter as a reproduction, but the bidder gambled it was a rare antique, which would have made it worth millions. When they ascertained it wasn’t old, they balked.

The most infamous case was in London, where someone bid a record 53 million pounds for an 18th-century Chinese porcelain vase at an auction and then refused to pay.

Bulmer said some of the big auction houses in New York and London now make bidders place a deposit to have a shot at high-end items.

“If you want to bid on a premium lot, you have to put a deposit of $100,000 down,” he said.

In this case, there were no problems — the money for the wall plaques arrived Tuesday.

The popularity of Chinese works has many auction houses putting on specialty Asian art and antique sales. Maynards now has four per year.

“The next big one is in December, and we have some huge collections coming in for that sale,” said Bulmer.

“We sold some major jades a few months back for $1.3 million, and we have some pieces from the same collection coming in for that sale. Also we have some very big collections of Chinese snuff bottles, and a big selection of Chinese furniture. It’s going to be a huge sale.”

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