A Dorset England resident’s celadon ceramic teapot with a slightly cracked lid earned more than $1 million last week at auction.
When the owner of the teapot – who wishes to remain anonymous – called Lee Young of Duke’s Auctioneers to appraise some ornaments, he wasn’t expecting this outcome. The teapot was originally thought to sell for a few thousand pounds but when the auction began, interest quickly grew into a bidding war. It took only 10 minutes as 10 buyers across the globe bid in increments of $20,000 until one upped the game to $1.04 million GBP800,000. Adding auction fees brought the total to $1.35 million.
The pear-shaped ceramic pot measures 5.1 inches, with a celadon glaze. On its lid is a filial of a peach and a pip. It’s said to be made for the emperor himself. The spout and the body are linked by a modelled tassel. The Telegraph quotes Young, head of Asian art at Duke’s Auctions as saying, “This combination of techniques and the outstanding quality of the potting marks this piece out as an Imperial masterpiece. It can be compared to similar wares from the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in Beijing.”
“When I held it, my heart skipped a beat,” recalled Young, who noticed the teapot on a shelf and asked the owner for a closer look. He realized he was holding something precious. What gave it away was the mark on the base of the teapot.
According Christie’s Auctions & Private Sales website, “A reign mark records the name of the Chinese dynasty and the reign of the emperor during which the piece was made. It comprises four or six Chinese characters, and is usually found on the base of a work of art commissioned for the Emperor or his imperial household.”
The reign mark on this teapot indicated that it was from the reign of Emperor Qianlong, which dates it to 18th century (1735-1796). The Manchu ruler had two indulgences – art and tea, composing more than 200 poems on tea. He is said to have held tea parties every year, in the first lunar month and in the Hall of Double Glory (Chonghua Dian) within the Forbidden City. These parties saw attendance by grand secretaries and ministers and with tea driving the celebrations, poetry was written. With such a love for tea, it is a small surprise the tea pots from this time were not perfect for the teas that were made. The emperor’s choice of ceramics included some of the finest porcelain and celadon.
Qing antiques have surfaced often in Britain, and the British Museum has a collection on permanent display. This is not the first for a Qing teapot to go under the hammer for a fortune. In September 2016, Sothebys New York had a sale of Chinese art. The highlight of the bidding was another Qianlong teapot that sold for $3.5 million. This one was a turquoise-ground, famille-rose ‘Hui Mountain Retreat’ teapot and cover with the Qianlong seal mark and period. The 6-7/8 inch teapot was from an old Scottish collection.
Interestingly, many bids from Chinese collectors. Imperial works from the Qianlong period are particularly popular. Henry Howard Sneyd, Sotheby’s chairman of Asian Art, Europe and Americas was quoted as saying, “The Chinese emperors led taste in China, so whatever inspired the emperor, be it jade, bronze or porcelain, drove people’s interest, and the new generation of rich Chinese collectors are focused on buying the best.”