Previous News - Canterbury Auctioneer celebrates blockbuster sale of Chinese porcelain

23/08/12

Kent man’s ‘£150,000 collection’ sells for almost £900,000.

The sale of the Evans Collection of fine Imperial Chinese porcelain, jade, and ivories at The Canterbury Auction Galleries was always going to be a landmark. In the event it proved to be a blockbuster for the saleroom, for the auctioneer, and for retired businessman Tony Evans, who watched as pieces he had prized for 40 years or more sell for just short of £900,000. He had been expecting a total of around £150,000, but prices were buoyed by enthusiasm among buyers, notably from some of the dealers from whom Mr Evans had made his original purchases. 

“I was staggered,” said Mr Evans, who sat with his wife, Anne, in the third row of the saleroom. “But its success was nothing I did," he said modestly. "The auctioneer did a lot of work. The whole thing about selling is choosing the right agency and the right time. If I’d sold the collection 20 years ago I wouldn't have got anything like these prices. The auctioneer did a good job. The only thing I did was choose the items. I picked things that I liked, simple things in which you could appreciate good workmanship. But it was also quite a frightening experience. At those prices I couldn't think of starting a collection today.” After the sale, the couple returned to their Kent home on the bus. 

Auctioneer Tony Pratt was delighted with the result. "Without a doubt this is the most astonishing sale I've ever had the pleasure of taking," he said. "I'm still slightly stunned and only now managing to take it all in. Not only is this a record total in a single sale, the collection also produced a house record with the Kangxi Emperor’s ‘pheasant’ bowl selling for £195,000. 

The bowl had been estimated at £8,000-12,000, but its eventual price reflected the level of international interest in the sale and the current, apparently unending, spiral in the prices of Chinese antiques and works of art being paid by buyers keen to repatriate their country's heritage. 

"It was only after the sale that the prices achieved by the 77 lots started to register with me," Tony Pratt said. "The atmosphere in the saleroom was electric and the tension among the contingent of about 25 or 30 Chinese dealers and collectors present was fantastic. Bidding was truly international, from mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, America and Canada, to Italy and Portugal. 

“The London view of the highlights of the collection was arranged with our oriental arts consultant, Alastair Gibson, formerly a Sotheby’s Director and Head of the Asian Departments in Europe. This coincided with the series of major auctions in Asia Week and brought a high level of interest in the collection and greatly increased international participation. Alistair Gibson also took some of the major pieces for private viewings for collectors and dealers in Hong Kong. Our confidence that the collection would significantly exceed expectations was never in doubt” 

Mr Pratt continued: “It took me nine years to build the annual turnover of our saleroom to £1 million and we doubled that two years ago. To raise almost £1 million before the lunch break in this sale was truly amazing.”  

The Evans Collection raised a total of £898,290 and the rare Kangxi bowl with six character mark of the period 1662-1722, was the single most valuable piece. Made toward the end of the Kangxi period, the bowl was decorated with pheasants in underglaze-blue and copper-red in the wucai palette (wucai means five colours) the bowl is similar to one from the Qing Court now in the Palace Museum Collection in Beijing. 

Mr. Evans, who was educated at King's school, Canterbury, had kept meticulous records of his purchases but ironically, the bowl was not listed and he had no recollection of how much he had paid for it. However, the original price of another highlight was known. A Yongzheng period ‘Chicken Cup’ was purchased by Mr Evans in 1970 for £225. It had been acquired by dealers Phillips & Harris from the famous N.C. Harrison Collection, which was dispersed at Sotheby’s in 1967. It sold at The Canterbury Auction Galleries for £155,000. 

Decorated with a cockerel, hen and chicks among flowering plants, the cup had an apocryphal Chenghua six-character mark. These cups were popularised by the Chenghua Emperor (reigned 1464-87), and this example was a Qing dynasty copy of a revered Ming dynasty prototype. It had been estimated conservatively at £20,000-30,000. Both the pheasant bowl and chicken cup were purchased by a private Asian collector who placed his bids on one of 36 telephones in use during the sale. Both pieces had been seen by the buyer when Mr Gibson took highlights from the collection to be viewed there. 

Mr Evans’ purchases were made in the 1960 and 70s from top London dealers, notably the legendary S. Marchant and Son family dynasty – they bought back five of the best pieces – and it was this impeccable provenance that gave buyers the reassurance of quality and authenticity. The result was confident bidding in the room, on the telephone and on the Internet. 

Bidding on the telephone, Marchant’s most valuable purchase was the £140,000 paid for an Imperial porcelain doucai stem bowl (Yongzheng mark and period 1723-1735) the bowl decorated to exterior with “ba jixiang”- the eight Buddhist emblems, the interior with a chrysanthemum medallion incorporating a “shou” character for good luck. It was purchased by Mr Evans from Marchant in 1962 for £25 and had been estimated at £4,000-6,000, reflecting the fact that it has a hairline crack to its rim. 

The same buyer secured a ‘sang de boeuf’ glazed water pot with a Qianlong mark and period, for £60,000 against an estimate of £3,000-5,000, purchased from the dealer by Mr Evans in 1970 for £85; a pair of Imperial blue and yellow dragon bowls for £55,000, purchased from Marchant in 1965 for £225; a pair of Imperial porcelain yellow and green fluted dragon dishes (Qianlong mark and period 1736-1795) each finely incised and decorated on both sides with five-clawed dragons chasing flaming pearls for £43,000, purchased from Marchant in 1965 for £200; and one of Mr Evans’ most expensive purchases, a good Chinese jade bamboo-shaped spill vase dating from the Qing dynasty, (Qianlong period 1736-1795) carved with a phoenix and peony, the pale celadon coloured jade with brown inclusions. Mr Evans paid Marchant £800 to buy it in 1974 – they returned the favour with a bid of £9,500. 

Private buyers gave the dealers a run for their money, however, a Surrey-based collector paying £47,000 for two blue and white slender porcelain baluster shaped vases each painted with scholars on a terrace, which dated from the Qing Dynasty - Kangxi period (1662-1722). They were estimated at £6,000-8,000 reflecting the fact that one vase was cracked and restored. 

A Japanese dealer bidding in the room paid £18,000 against an estimate of £1,500-2,000 for a blue and white porcelain ‘Lotus’ bowl, dating from the Ming Dynasty Wanli period (1573-1620) the interior decorated with cloud scrolls, the exterior with flowers. The rim had been ground down and the bowl had a small hairline crack, but Mr Evans purchased it from Marchant in 1972 for £150. 

It was a UK collector who won the first lot of the collection, a pair (Qing dynasty, late 19th century) of ivory rectangular table screens, finely carved and stained with scholars at leisurely pursuits and calligraphy to reverse, which sold for £10,000 against an estimate of £2,000-3,000, but a Chinese dealer in the room took the ivory prize, a good intricately carved panel of a battle scene with hardwood and silver inlaid stand, which sold for £11,000 against an estimate of £2,000-3,000. It was purchased by Mr Evans from Marchant in 1966 for £140. 

Mr Evans developed a love of Chinese porcelain from his accountant father who worked for the Kailan Mining Administration, based in the port of Tientsin near Beijing. The family moved there in 1925 when Mr Evans was a baby. The company was an Anglo/Chinese organisation which at its height employed more than 40,000 men involved predominantly in coal mining. 

Mr Evans trained as a veterinary surgeon but did not take up the profession, deciding after his National Service to work in London, setting up a successful chain of hardware stores in the Boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea. This provided him with the financial means to begin a collection of his own Chinese porcelain and works of art, inspired by that of his father from whom he had inherited a modest blue and white Kangxi period lotus dish, which he has chosen to keep for sentimental reasons.

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