Was $18 million Chinese Vase Correctly Documented?


Chinese Vase sold for $18 million by Sotheby's
Chinese Famille Rose Vase sold for $18 million by Sotheby's
A Chinese porcelain that was expected to sell for $800 to $1,200 sold for $18 million at Sotheby's NY, March 22, 2011. Described as an unusual famille rose and gold decorated vase, an anonymous bidder paid $18 million for this 20th Century porcelain.

Chinese Famille Rose sold for $18 million, Sotheby's
$18 million Chinese Famille Rose Vase sold by Sotheby's
The Chinese vase was part of 300 lots from the property of J.T. Tai and Company, a well-known Dealer of Chinese porcelain; the Sotheby's auction realized $36.3 million and took nine hours to complete.

Why did Sotheby's estimate the $18 million Chinese Vase at only $800-$1,200? 
Sotheby's felt there was no actual support to indicate the vase was created before the 20th Century.

Chinese Famille Rose sold for $18 million, Sotheby's
Chinese Famille Rose Vase sold for $18 million by Sotheby's
Why did Sotheby's include a Lot with such a low estimate in its sale? 
The vase, part of estate property, was most likely included, as an accommodation since it was a part of 300 lot one owner sale. If the Famille Rose Chinese vase Lot were presented for consignment to Sotheby's by most consignors, its $800-$1,200., estimate would place it well below the minimum lot value.

Is the $18 million paid for the  Famille Rose Chinese Vase a good investment? 
We think the $18 million price paid for the Famille Rose Chinese vase has significant downside risk, especially given there is no actual evidence to support its creation and ownership prior to the 20th Century.  We endorse the advice of Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's Chief Auctioneer, who said recently in a WSJ Interview, "if you decide to collect antiquities, you'd better have the best expert on your side".
Would Sotheby's change the estimate if the Chinese Vase buyer consigned it again? 
Most likely, Sotheby's would not dramatically revise the estimate to several million dollars if the Buyer were to consign it again. Absent new information, there is no reason to change its documentation from probably Republican which means it is a vase created in the 20th Century, and its original estimate reflected this dating.

Chinese Famille Rose sold for $18 million, Sotheby's
Another view Chinese Famille Rose sold for $18 million, Sotheby's
What prevented Sotheby's from stating the Vase was created earlier than the 20th Century? 
The adherence of the Sotheby's International terms of guarantee obviated use of documentation that indicated the vase was created before the 20th Century. While some bidders felt the Vase could have been created as early as 1736-1795, there was no actual support for this creation date.  Sotheby's terms of guarantee, ensures a buyer a complete refund in the event the lot counterfeit and/or not documented correctly. 

Furthermore, since the Work was the property of a J.T. Tai and Company, an Internationally respected dealer in Chinese porcelain, there was no reason to change its creation from the 20th Century. The vase accounted for about 50% of the total realized dollar volume at the Sotheby's sale.

The top ten Lots follow:

  • A Fine Blue And White Bowl Ming Dynasty, Yongle Period sold for $1,594,500 (est. $800,000/1.2 million).
  • A 'Famille-Rose' Vase, Republican Period which fetched $1,314,500 (est. $6/8,000).
  • A Fine Carved 'Ding' Bowl, Song Dynasty which brought $392,500 (est. $15/20,000).
  • An Archaic Yellow Jade Ornament With Hinged Twin Discs Qing Dynasty sold for $434,500 (est. $10/15,000.
  • An Archaic Jade Fluted Ring Late Eastern Zhou/Western Han Dynasty fetching $338,500 (est. $1,500/2,000). 
Judd Tully reports that "Bidders were convinced that the auction house was wrong in believing the piece to be a mere 20th Century copy."

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