Chinese vase bought in charity shop for £1 sold for £380,000 at Sworders auction

This c.1740-50 Qianlong wall pocket vase sold at Sworders on November 8 at £380,000 (plus 25% buyer's premium).

Purchased for £1 from a Hertfordshire charity shop earlier this year, a Qianlong (1736-95) famille rose wall vase sold for £380,000 at Sworders in London today (plus 25% buyer’s premium).

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Roland Arkell

This c.1740-50 Qianlong wall pocket vase sold at Sworders on November 8 at £380,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium).

The lucky vendor of the vessel – which is inscribed with an imperial poem – was in the room at the Westbury Hotel, Mayfair on November 8 to watch it sell after a 10-minute bidding contest.

Unaware of the significance of his find he has had been deluged with bids and enquiries after briefly listing it for sale on eBay. After withdrawing it from sale it was taken to his local auction for a fuller appraisal. Sworder’s valuation had been £50,000-80,000 but serious interest at much higher levels had been expressed prior to sale.

Following the result the vendor said: “I am ecstatic, what a result, it’s all for my young daughter.”

Sworders auction house record

A spokesperson from Sworders added: “This has been the perfect auction story: a bargain find, a culturally important and beautiful work of art and a life changing sum of money for the vendor.

“It’s the most expensive item Sworders have sold in its 230-year-plus history.”

The 8in (19cm) high pear-shaped wall pocket with ruyi handles and a yellow sgraffito ground is inscribed with a poem praising incense alongside a yuti mark and two iron-red seal marks reading Qianlong chen han (‘the Qianlong Emperor’s own mark’) and Weijing weiyi (‘be precise, be undivided’).

Favourite vessel

Wall vases were one of Qianlong’s favourite porcelain vessels. There are 320 in the Palace Museum (138 of them are inscribed with poems by the emperor) with this vase identical to another pair in the collection, save their differing texts. The choice of poem (written by the art and culture-obsessed emperor prior to his accession) helps date this vase to the 1740s.

According to Zaoban Chu Gezuo Chengzuo Huoji Qingdang (The Archives of the Imperial Workshops), in 1742 the emperor commissioned Tang Ying (1682-1756), head of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns, to produce porcelains inscribed with poems he had written as Heshuo Bao Qinwang (Prince Bao of the First Rank) that had been published in 1737 as Yuzhi leshantang quanji dingben [Definitive Edition of the Complete Works by His Majesty from the Hall of Pleasure in Goodness]. A decree of 1752 instructed Tang Ying to use only poems composed after his accession in 1735.