Cracked teapot found in Dorset sells for £1m after auctioneer makes accidental discovery

Telegraph Reporters
Dukes Auctioneers Julia Miskin takes a close look at the teapot - Graham Hunt/BNPS

A China teapot that was found on a shelf of a semi-detached house has sold for a staggering £1m - despite having a damaged lid.

Its owner, who wasn't aware of its significance, brought it down to show expert Lee Young who had been invited to the modest property in Dorset to value some ornaments.

Mr Young, of Duke's Auctioneers of Dorchester, Dorset, identified the stamp on its base as being that of the Chinese emperor Qianlong who reigned between 1735-1796. On the lid was a finial of a peach, a symbol of immortality and unity in Imperial China, where peach trees were considered to be the 'tree of life' and Chinese brides carried peach blossoms.

The 5ins tall green glaze celadon teapot was conservatively estimated to sell for a few thousand pounds but interest in it took off ahead of the auction.

It sparked an international bidding war between 10 buyers, with the successful telephone bidder paying a hammer price of £800,000 for it. With auction house fees added on the overall figure paid was £1,040,000. There was stunned applause in the auction house as the sale was concluded.

The vendor, who does not wish to be named, is a middle-aged businessman. The teapot had been passed down the family for several generations but its previous provenance is unknown. It had been sitting as an ornament piece on a shelf in the living room of the semi-detached home he shares with his wife.

Mr Young, who is head of Asian Art at Duke's, described how his heart 'skipped a beat' when he first handled the 'Imperial masterpiece'. He said the vendor is still in a state of 'sheer disbelief' about the live-changing sale result.

He said: "As the owner handed me the teapot for an opinion my heart missed a beat.

"As I turned it over and saw the beautifully drawn blue seal mark of Qianlong I realised immediately that I was handling a piece made for the Emperor himself.

"The teapot has a pear shaped body covered in an exceptionally delicate pale green celadon glaze and the spout is 'tied' to the body with a beautifully modelled tassel. The lid has a finial modelled as a peach and pips painted in naturalistic enamel colours.

"This combination of techniques and the outstanding quality of the potting marks this piece out as an Imperial masterpiece. It can be compared to similar wares from the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in Beijing.

"The battle for the teapot between ten telephone bidders took ten minutes with the price jumping in £20,000 increments. At one stage the price jumped by £100,000 as a buyer tried to frighten off other bidders.

"The saleroom was packed and the crowd broke into spontaneous applause when the auctioneer's gavel fell. I told the vendor and he is thrilled but in a state of sheer disbelief. I don't think it has sunk in yet."

Guy Schwinge, of Duke's, said bidders were prepared to overlook the damage to the lid as it was 'minor', in light of the 'exceptional' nature of the teapot.

He said: "Our Asian art specialist went to the vendor's house for a routine valuation and this pear-shaped teapot had been sitting on a shelf.

"The vendor brought it down for him to take a look at and Lee sensed straight away it was a rather exciting discovery. We held an exhibition in London ahead of the sale and it created a sensation.

"The exceptional nature and rarity of the piece combined with the minor nature of the damage means that buyers were prepared to accept it."

The Qianlong Emperor was the sixth emperor of the Qing dynasty. He abdicated in favour of his son, the Jiaqing Emperor, and died three years later aged 87 in 1799.

In the same sale a Chinese boxwood carving sold for £185,000 and a Jade meerkat figure expected to sell for £300 went under the hammer for £50,000.

The sale comes days after a small Chinese vase that was bought for £1 in a charity shop sold at auction for £484,000.

The items are the latest examples of the newly-rich Chinese buying back their lost heritage.

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