A vase thought to have belonged to an 18th Century Chinese emperor turned up an auction in rural Ireland earlier this month and sold for more than 70 times its asking price.

The 12-inch tall blue and white porcelain vase had an asking price of just $200, but caught the attention of two top international antique collectors from China and England. Both saw it online and, recognizing it as an authentic vase from Imperial China, flew in especially for the auction in Durrow, a small town in the Irish midlands with a population of just over 1,000 people.

After an opening bid of just $70, dealers Rong Chen and Richard Peters got into a bidding war to the astonishment of those present. Bids jumped in an intense frenzy of hundreds and thousands of euro at a time. Peters, who was seated, bid by nodding discreetly, while Chen stood as she took instructions on a mobile phone from her husband.

Peters, above, won the auction at a final price of $150,000 over Chen, who later said she had been told by her husband to drop out at $135,000. Afterwards, 48-year-old Peters insisted: “I got a bargain.”

The Kensington antique dealer said the vase, which is decorated with banana and bamboo trees, was made for the personal collection of the Emperor Qianlong (1735 – 1799). It had “probably been looted from the Imperial Palace in Peking by French or British or American soldiers sometime during the 19th century”, he added. He said the field of Chinese ceramics was “difficult because the market is filled with fakes and forgeries”.

Chen, below left, also aged 48, who had traveled from Beijing especially for the auction, said she was very sad and disappointed. Her husband, an accountant and antique collector, had spotted the vase on the internet. She said he believed: “This is the one – we think it was in the Imperial household.”

The vase was put up for auction by an unnamed family from the local Laois County who had inherited it as part of a collection of Chinese porcelain but had no idea of its true value. After the auction they said they were “chuffed and delighted”.

Peters also bought a second lot – a pair of Chinese polychrome vases – for $55,000. Like the Imperial vase, the items had carried a guide price of $130-200.

Auctioneer Michael Sheppard said the vase had achieved the highest ever price in the 60-year-history of the Sheppard Irish Auction House. “Something like this happens once in a lifetime,” he added.

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Bill Lehane
Bill Lehane, 28, is a journalist and freelance writer from Dublin, Ireland. He recently returned from six months working as a teacher in east China, which gave him a chance to experience many of the wide, weird and wacky sights that make up daily life in the Middle Kingdom. However, he did not succeed in teaching the local teenagers anything whatsoever: they still love Michael Jackson, KFC and themselves. More at billlehane.com.
Bill Lehane

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