Not so ordinary? Why Chinese vase put on sale for $2,000 fetched $8.8 million

The Tianqiuping vase was sent for auction by a woman living in a French overseas territory. The unnamed seller never even laid eyes on the item which she said was left to her by her mother, and which originally belonged to her Parisian collector grandmother

FP Explainers October 04, 2022 22:12:32 IST
Not so ordinary? Why Chinese vase put on sale for $2,000 fetched $8.8 million

The vase that fetched $8.8 million at auction. Image courtesy: Osenat

A Chinese vase put on sale for a mere $2,000 has fetched an incredible $8.8 million at auction after a bidding war broke out between collectors.

According to the website of the Osenat auction house, the blue-and-white Tianqiuping vase was sold in Fontainebleau near Paris on Saturday for a final price of $8.8 million including fees.

Let’s take a closer look at this amazing story:

The auction house website described the vase as a “porcelain and polychrome enamel vase in the style of the blue-white with globular body and long cylindrical neck, decorated with nine fierce dragons and clouds”.

Tianqiuping vases are also known as “celestial sphere” vases because of their shape, as per CNN.

The vase was put on sale by a woman living in a French overseas territory whose late mother left it to her, The Guardian reported.

The seller arranged for the item to be taken from her mother’s home in Brittany to Paris to be sold by auctioneers Osenat without ever seeing it.

The seller, whose identity has not been disclosed, told the auction house the vase originally belonged to her grandmother, a collector in Paris.


CNN reported that while 300 to 400 people expressed an interest in bidding on the item, the auction house limited that number to 30, and made all of them put down a deposit to participate.

Osenat told CNN there were 15 telephone bidders and 15 present at the auction house, with 10 still bidding when the price passed the €5 million mark.

The anonymous winning buyer was one of some 30 Chinese bidders who competed for the vase, according to Artnet News.

The question is now about whether the vase is from the 20th or 18th Century.

If it is from the 20th Century, the vase is rather commonplace, but it if it indeed is from the 18th century, the price can be justified, as per RTE.

Experts remain unsure.

“From the moment the catalogue was published we saw there was enormous interest, with more and more Chinese people coming to see the vase,” said Cédric Labord, a director at the auction house, told Le Parisien. “Our expert still thinks it’s not old.”

As per CAN, the auction house for its part believed the vase is a “quite ordinary” porcelain-and-enamel piece dating to the 20th Century.

“It’s a crazy story,” auctioneer Jean-Pierre Osenat was quoted as saying by RTE.

“It exceeds the price of Napoleon’s saber at the Battle of Marengo in 1800!” Osenat added. That item fetched $4 million in 2007.

However, Osenat now seems to have changed his tune.

“I have faith in the hammer, which is to say that I think the law of supply and demand determines the market price,” he told CNN. “The view of an expert can’t outweigh that of 300 people.”

“I think the market has spoken,” he said, adding that he now believes the vase dates from the 18th Century.

This isn’t the first example of a vase being put up for sale at auction and fetching an incredible amount.

As per Art News, a British surgeon in May 2022 sold a Chinese vase he purchased for a couple of hundred pounds for $1.9 million.

In 2018, a vase which had been kept in Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum of Art sold for more than $14 million at Christie’s, as per the report.

With inputs from agencies

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