A man who’s discovered an ancient Chinese treasure worth £2 million thanks to his ingenuity, expertise and a handy pocket torch is coming to Derbyshire soon – and I can’t wait, writes Charles Hanson.
Dr Eldon Worrall is our new Chinese and Oriental Art consultant and his first free valuation event will be held at our Etwall Auction Centre, near Derby, on July 2.
Every now and then, we uncover something spectacular that sends the Chinese market into a frenzy. I’ll never forget the vase a couple brought along for free valuation in 2011, hoping to get £25. It turned out to be Quing Dynasty with the daoguang period mark (1821-1850). It sold for £192,000. (below right)
Then in 2016 a large Emperor Qianlong (1735-99) Chinese vase, which was being used as a doorstop, was contested to £650,000.
Fast forward to 2017 when an Emperor Yongzheng Chinese plate, circa 1723-1735, sold for £230,000. It was found in a South Derbyshire kitchen cupboard (below left).
Treasures like these fascinate and excite me, and Dr Worrall is hoping to uncover more. He knows exactly what it feels like to make an amazing find. Last year he discovered an Imperial porcelain incense burner from the Jiajing period in a basement. It’s been valued at £2 million.
But it took his torch and expertise to unearth it. He tells me he was aware some important objects had been given to a Merseyside art gallery many years ago as an act of philanthropy by the Lairds, a wealthy engineering family.
He volunteered his services to take a look. As he made his way into the basement, the light was poor and everything was covered up but he had a torch to hand and recalled his amazement when he shone it on what proved to be a piece of Imperial porcelain.
Some 20 years previously, he identified a pair of Imperial Chinese bronzes, made as a gift for General Gordon of Khartoum. They sold at auction years ago for £280,000.
Charles Hanson in 2011 with a Chinese vase which sold for £192,000 and in 2016 with a larger vase which fetched £650,000.
General Gordon of Khartoum was a British Army officer in command of a force of Chinese soldiers led by European officers. In the early 1860s, Gordon and his men were instrumental in putting down the Taiping Rebellion. Consequently, he was honoured by both the Emperor of China and the British, hence the gift.
This brings me to a key reason why Chinese Imperial treasures are occasionally discovered in the UK today. British troops raided Chinese palaces in the 1800s.
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, British and French forces arrived in Beijing to negotiate with Prince Yi and representatives of the Qing Empire. Unfortunately, after a day of talks, 20 British, French and Indian men in the party were taken prisoner and later tortured and killed.
Lord Elgin, British High Commissioner to China, retaliated by ordering the destruction of the Old Summer Palace. It took 3,500 British troops to set the entire place ablaze.
Gordon of Khartoum wrote at the time: “We went out, and, after pillaging it, burned the whole place, destroying in a vandal-like manner most the valuable property ... You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt … It was wretchedly demoralising work for an army.”
Before it was torched, British and French looters took many pieces of porcelain, some of which still grace British and French country houses today. If they go to auction, Chinese millionaires and billionaires are keen to repatriate these treasures.
If you have an Oriental object, Dr Worrall, who completed his doctorate in 1993 on Chinese metallurgy, can assess it. He became a research fellow in the Chinese department of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside and published a book on Chinese porcelains at 24.
Allied to that is his passion for antiques. He opened his first antique shop in his early teens, employing school friends to help. By 18 he was an auctioneer, by 19 a junior partner in a firm of Liverpool auctioneers and at the age of 25 he opened his own auction company.
He would love to see anything believed to be of Chinese origin be it jade, lacquer, porcelain, silver, bronze buddhas or snuff bottles. You may not have an Imperial object made for a Chinese emperor’s palace, but other items can spark rich rewards.
In 2017, three early 20th century Chinese bowls (pictured above) sold for £62,000 at Hansons having been bought for no more than £1 each at junk shops in Nottinghamshire in the 1950s and 60s. With an auction estimate of £500 each, the owner hoped to buy a new stair carpet with the proceeds. The windfall meant she could potentially retire.
Free valuations with Dr Eldon Worrall at Hansons
Dr Eldon Worrall will be valuing Chinese and Asian decorative art objects and ceramics at Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, DE65 6LS, once a month from July 2, no appointment necessary. Dates as follows:
DR ELDON WORRALL : Tuesdays, 11am-3pm
July 2, August 6, September 3, October 1, November 5, December 3.
As always, free general valuations are available at Hansons on Wednesday, 5-7pm, Fridays, 10am-4pm, and Saturdays, 9am-noon. Jewellery and watches can be valued on any day but specialists are always available on Tuesdays, 9.30am-4.30pm, and Fridays, 10am-4pm.