Saturday 24 February 2018

Valued at just €150, bought for €110,000, but it could be worth €3.3m

Ciaran Byrne

A LONDON antiques dealer who bought a rare Chinese vase put on sale for €150 at an Irish antiques auction could re-sell it for up to €3.3m, the Irish Independent can reveal.

After returning to London with his purchase, a delighted Richard Peters, a renowned ceramics expert, said the Co Laois firm which sold the porcelain vase had not understood the worth of the item.

In a dramatic bidding war that reached €110,000 in just four minutes, Mr Peters outbid two telephone bidders and a Chinese expert who had dashed to Ireland from Beijing to try and land the vase.

After taxes and fees, Mr Peters paid €129,965 for the 18th-century Ming-style vase -- but he insisted yesterday he got "a bargain" at Sheppards' Irish Auction House in Co Laois.

Mr Peters told the Irish Independent: "It's a proper auction house that deals mainly in furniture and paintings so they do get expensive lots, but they didn't seem to understand Chinese porcelain at all."


Explaining the initial €150 price tag, experts said yesterday it was not unusual in specialised areas such as ceramics for auction houses to be deliberately conservative in valuations and descriptions.

One antique expert said: "It is often done to bring experts like Mr Peters from his shop in London all the way to auctions like this.

"The auctioneers are not daft. They knew they had something good."

Speaking yesterday at his antiques shop in Kensington in London, Mr Peters described how he went head-to-head with a Chinese bidder.

"As the bids went up, there were gasps from the crowd. It was a packed house and people were clapping and cheering in the aisles," he said.

Mr Peters, a regular customer with Sheppards' in the village of Durrow, said he could understand why few people would recognise the real value of the porcelain.

He admitted he was the same dealer who forked out €41,000 for a pair of polychrome vases which had also been advertised beforehand for just €150.

His €110,000 vase had been offered for sale by a Co Carlow family with a guide price of between €100 to €150.

The family, who do not wish to be identified, will pocket around €99,000 from the auction.

Now that the real origins of the vase are known and it is not an imitation, auctioneer Philip Sheppard said Mr Peters will probably sell the vase to a serious collector in China.

"He could get about £3m (€3.3m) for it if he sold it, most probably to a member of the Chinese elite," he said.

Sheppards', which has four major sales a year attracting a string of international clients in person and by phone, had never seen anything like it, said the auctioneer.

"It was pure theatre. After the gavel came down there was a hush and then applause. The room was very charged," said Mr Sheppard, whose cousin Michael wielded the gavel.

The market in Chinese porcelain is crowded with copies and forgeries, said the auctioneer, so international dealers conduct detailed research on anything being put up for sale.

The auctioneer prepared a 'condition report' for clients and also sent photographs of the vase to those wanting to bid. Mr Peters and another collector based in China decided the 12-inch vase was the real thing and both raced to Ireland to join the auction.


Mr Peters said: "I had only seen one photograph of it before I went over.

"It was my brother, who I work with very closely, who first spotted it and said I should go to the sale because it looked like a good one.

"That was around midnight on Sunday, and I booked a flight for 11am the following morning, so I arrived in Ireland a day before the sale.

"I was hoping no one else would spot it, but these things are inevitable because of the piece's value.

"People like me all over the world are looking for them. The vase is not Ming but it is in the Ming style."

He said the vase with images of bamboo and banana trees was made for the Peking palace of Emperor Qianlong between 1736 and 1795.

Mr Peters returned to London with the vase on a regular BMI passenger flight.

He said: "I thought it best not to post it, so I just hopped on a flight with it."

"I specialise in pieces that have been robbed from Imperial palace stores.

"Often they have been taken and handed down through the family, just being put on the mantelpiece or being used to feed the cat.

"Most people have no idea how to recognise something this valuable.

"It takes a long time to understand antiques. I have been doing it nearly 30 years and it's still trying -- you never stop learning," he said.

After the auction was over on Tuesday, the Chinese rival bidder, Ms Rong Chen, who flew in from Beijing to bid for the vase on behalf of her accountant husband, expressed her disappointment.

Why the price is often so wrong

Irish Independent

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