Treasure hidden in an attic for 30 years breaks World Record in £53.1m sale

Many people suspect they may have some 'cash in the attic', but few would dream of finding millions amongst the rafters.

However, for a brother and sister in North-West London the dream became reality today as an 18th Century Qianlong vase found during a house clearance broke the World Record price for Chinese art.

It was sold for an astounding £43m hammer price, breaking the previous record of £40.9m paid for a Song Dynasty scroll sold in Beijing earlier this year.

The vase, believed to have originated from the Imperial Kilns of the Qing Dynasty from around 1740, was discovered amongst the belongings of their late parents where it had lay hidden since the 1930s.

It was placed up for auction at the tiny Bainbridge auction house in Ruislip, whose previous record price was for a piece of Ming enamel worth £100,000.

The vase was sold after 30 extraordinary minutes of frantic bidding during which 9 individual agents and collectors battled for the prize, sending the value way above the original estimate of around £20m. It eventually sold for £53,105,000 in total, earning the auctioneers close to £8m in commission.

Experts believe the success of the sale is due to the undeniable strength of the Chinese art market (currently the strongest bidding market in the world) and the huge demand for Imperial items amongst Chinese collectors.

Many items were removed as the Imperial palaces were ransacked during the second Opium war of the 1850s, and some wealthy collectors now see it as their duty to return these treasures to China.

Jade Elephants
Items such as these jade elephants are proving increasingly popular within the emerging Chinese art market.

As unusual as this story may seem, however, it isn't the first time an item belonging to Emperor Qianlong has turned up unexpectedly.

In 2009 the producers of the US Antiques Roadshow were shocked when a collection of Qianlong jade items turned up in North Carolina. The pieces, bought by a soldier stationed in China during the 1930s, were conservatively priced at $1.07m, breaking the show's valuation record.

The collection included a vase detailed with rubies, a large bowl marked "By Imperial Order" and an animal figurine (which have proven particularly popular with collectors).

As the market for Chinese art grows, the desirability of Imperial objects cannot be underestimated. Collectors are now more than willing to break records in order to bring trophies home, and with the Emperor's riches popping up in the strangest of places it might just be worth giving the attic another quick clean-out....


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