An imperial Chinese wine ewer – boxed up in a Midlands garage and destined for a charity shop - has been described as the ‘ultimate lockdown find’ and is worth tens of thousands of pounds.
The rare Beijing-enamelled object, which resembles a teapot and dates back to the Qianlong period (1735-99), stunned experts at Hansons Auctioneers when it was taken for free valuation at its Etwall Auction Centre, near Derby.
The tiny 15cm object, lot 464, is due to be sold on September 24 with an estimate of £20,000-£40,000 but such is the demand for imperial works of art from wealthy Chinese buyers it could make £100,000, according to Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers.
He said: “This has to be the best lockdown find ever. It is such an exciting discovery, an imperial 18th century wine ewer which would have graced a palace in China and was, perhaps, handled by Emperor Qianlong, considered by some to be the greatest Chinese Emperor.
“Two almost identical teapots, both with Qianlong reign marks, exist in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, and the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. It’s truly astonishing to find an Emperor’s wine ewer in a Derbyshire home, an object used to serve warm wine during important ceremonies.”
And yet, but for lockdown, the object could have ended up being donated to a charity shop along with other items accumulated over the years by a South Derbyshire family.
Family photos relating to the vendor's grandfather who served in the Far East during WW2.
Its 51-year-old owner, a semi-retired manual worker, said: “The teapot has been in my family as long as I can remember. My mum used to display it in a cabinet. We believe it was brought back to England from China by my grandfather who was stationed in the Far East during the Second World War and was awarded a Burma Star medal. He served in the Royal Army Services Corps in both Burma and India.
CLICK HERE to view lot 464 - Imperial Chinse Wine Ewer
“Mum passed away nearly 20 years ago, then dad nine years ago and the teapot ended up in a loft in Newhall. Later it was boxed up and moved to a relative’s garage in Church Gresley. I admit, we’d been thinking of sending everything to a charity shop.
“But then lockdown came along and I finally had time to go through the boxes in the garage. I’d always thought the teapot, which is what I’ve always called it, was special. I spent time looking for information about it on the internet. One day I came across a similar item on a famous auction firm’s website and the Chinese writing looked identical.
The Qianlong mark on the wine ewer.
“Even so, when I took it to Hansons I was still unsure so dug out a few other bits and pieces for them to value in case they laughed at me when I pulled out the teapot.”
Hansons’ valuer Edward Rycroft did smile when he saw it - but only because he recognised its potential: “I knew it was special and persuaded the vendor to leave it with us so we could carry out some research. We were delighted to tell him later that it could be worth tens of thousands of pounds.”
The wine ewer, which has a rectangular form, is brightly decorated on a lemon-yellow ground and features colourful blooming peonies in hues of pinks, blues and purples.
Edward Rycroft with the lockdown find.
Mr Hanson said: “Ewers and teapots of this type were fashionable at court during the period of Emperor Qianlong. He was fascinated by European enamel and the new method of enamel painting and the style was replicated in his imperial workshops. During Emperor Qianlong’s reign this art form reached heady heights of perfection with designs reflecting the emperor's extravagant taste.
“The delicate wine ewer is a fine example of the perfect combination of an elegant shape, lavish colouration and technical perfection. Emperor Qianlong must have been especially fond of this vessel as a number of them were made, hence the existence of two similar examples in important museums in Taiwan and China.”
The rare Qianlong period wine ewer is due to be sold on September 24 at Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, DE65 6LS. To find out more, email: [email protected].