Imperial bronze censer from emperor’s Summer Palace sells for £37,000 at The Canterbury Auction Galleries


Imperial bronze censer from emperor’s Summer Palace

sells for £37,000 at The Canterbury Auction Galleries


A Chinese imperial bronze censer taken by a Royal Marine captain as spoils of war when the emperor’s Summer Palace was looted and burned after the fall of Peking in1860 sold for £37,000 at The Canterbury Auction Galleries.


The heavy cloisonné censer, used to contain burning incense, doubled its estimate on the second of the three-day November sale of fine art and antiques. It was purchased by the London trade.


Bearing an incised four character mark for 1736-1795 during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, the lobed body of the censer was decorated in the "Ming" style with a band of classic lotus scrolls against a turquoise ground, all resting on three gilt pad feet. It measured 3.5ins (89cm) in diameter and 3ins (76cm) in height.


Unusually, an additional fifth incised character mark appeared below the reign mark. This was either a serial number from the Chinese classic qianziwen, “The One Thousand Word Essay”, which had a strong connection to the Imperial workshops, or perhaps for differentiating its intended location in different palaces.


It had been consigned to the sale by the family of Captain Harry L. Evans, RM, (1831-1883) who was part of the Royal Marine contingent serving aboard H.M.S James Watt in 1854. He took part in the capture of Canton in 1857 and the subsequent expedition to White Cloud (Baiyun) Mountains.


He was slightly wounded in the attack upon the Pei-ho forts in 1859 and was present at the capture of the Taku forts in 1860. Later that year, he was also involved in the capture of the Summer Palace, Peking, now Beijing.


Evans described the latter action in a letter to his mother, detail from which read: “Pekin is now virtually ours, one of the gates having been surrendered to us several days ago, on the day on which we were to have opened fire …


“The General (Sir Hope Grant) sent out for all the carts he could find, brought in as much as they could carry, and all the things were sold by auction for prize money for the force actually present on the 6th, and a considerable amount was realised as the things went at fabulous prices………I expect to get about five and forty pounds for my share.”


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Other Chinese works of art in the sale, consigned by other owners, included a fine Ming dynasty, late 17th century ivory standing figure of Guanyin carrying a child, which sold for £4,900. Standing 9.5ins (24.1cm) high, on an oval hardwood stand, it was one of four early pieces of early, carved ivory collected by a wealthy American banker or his family and left to his wife, her second husband.


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All four were purchased by a Chinese bidder in the room who was in turn on the telephone to another Chinese bidder. They included a late 17th century scholar’s vase with ribbed decoration, sold for £3,800; a group of tea bowls and saucers, £1,550; and a double gourd puzzle vase with a carved chain of four monkeys, £1,250, a hammer total of £11,500.





A Chinese rosewood sideboard with three frieze drawers and a cupboard with a pair of folding doors, the entire front carved profusely with dragons and cloud motifs, 74ins (188cm) wide sold to a Surrey-based Chinese buyer for £2,700. It had been consigned from a local estate.



The saleroom’s free Friday morning valuations continue to uncover fine are rare objects, six of which featured among the top prices in the November sale.


Good jewellery and paintings were also consigned after their owners learned of their significance at the valuation mornings.


Most valuable among the former was a good early 20th diamond solitaire ring, the 4.79 carat old-cut gem set in white gold with five rose-cut diamonds to either side of the shank. It sold to a local private buyer for £22,500.



A Gemmological Certification Services report, commissioned by the auctioneers, confirmed the old European stone’s size and graded it as Colour I, Clarity I1 It had been inherited by the local vendor from his grandmother and attracted much presale attention. It was purchased by the local buyer as a gift.



The same vendor was a further £10,000 to the better when another local private buyer chose his Twenties diamond-set cocktail bracelet, also as a gift. The central collet-set stone of approximately 1.5ct was bordered by 40 further diamonds, ranging from .50ct to .20ct, further bordered to either side by 84 rose-cut diamonds (estimated total weight 14ct), all set in white gold.

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Meanwhile, a Roaring Forties diamond and emerald cocktail bracelet set in18ct white gold with three geometric panels interspersed by scrolling loop pattern links and set with 288 diamonds (estimated weight 11ct) and 80 baguette-cut emeralds (est 4ct), was another valuation morning find and was also destined to be a lady’s Christmas gift. It sold for £7,200, like the other pieces mentioned, all on or above estimate.



Most wanted painting also came from one of the valuation days: a work in the style of the great pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) that had been found rolled up in the property of a deceased estate where it is thought to have been for at least 50 years


The oil on canvas, cut from its stretcher, had been found in the attic by Australian relatives who were over dealing with the estate. Unsigned, it showed a scene from the tale of Rumpelstiltskin and was titled “The Sleeping Miller’s Daughter”. The canvas measured 40ins x 58ins, and a stamp on the reverse read: "L. Cornelissen & Son, 22 Great Queen Street, London, WC2", a dealer who was trading under this name and address between 1884-1977.


It was estimated at £2,000-3,000 reflecting its condition, but sold for £15,000 to a London-based collector/restorer who estimates it will take at least a year to restore.


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Dublin-born Patrick Procktor (1936-2003) was represented by another oil from a valuation morning: a view of a man in black standing by a fountain. The canvas signed and dated '68 in a silvered frame measured 20.25ins x 22ins, and sold to a Folkestone gallery for £4,400.




“Googling” the artist’s name paid dividends for another vendor and saved two still life studies by Kenneth Newton (1933-1984) from being thrown into a skip. An internet link had taken the owner, who was clearing a family home, to Falmouth Art Gallery – home of a permanent exhibition of the artist’s work – and in a phone call, the staff there recommended he contact The Canterbury Auction Galleries.


More valuable of the two was a signed canvas measuring 20ins x 26ins of two lobsters and prawns on an oval platter on a wooden table top. It sold to a London gallery for £4,100, while the second, showing a green majolica dish of cobnuts and fruit with a brass mortar and pestle and other fruit and vegetables reflected in a plated two-handled tray, this one measuring 20ins x 30ins, sold to an avid private collector of his works for £2,200.



Pick of a group of six watercolours each 17.25ins x 13.25ins of exotic birds by Thomas Lewin (1774-?) was one depicting the red-headed “Gang-gang Cockatoo". The picture was signed "D & P. by T H.S Lewin", while a note on the reverse reading "Species from New Holland (very scarce) Lewin" explained why it sold for £3,600 when the others had each realised £300-340. Lewin came from a family of ornithological artists and he and his brother both went to Australia (New Holland) to study and draw a series of birds. The cockatoo was a result of his trip and indeed rare.




Pick of the clocks was a good late 17th century ebonised table clock by Thomas Finch of London, the 7ins brass dial with silvered chapter ring, mock pendulum aperture and date aperture, while the eight-day, two-train verge movement striking on a bell, was contained in a case with arched top, turned gilt brass finials and folding handle, the frieze inset with pierced and engraved brass panels.


Thomas Finch was recorded as an apprentice in 1678 and a member of the Clockmakers’ Company in 1706. The clock sold on estimate for £5,000


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Elsewhere, buyers had a huge range of collectors’ items to contest, most unusual of which was a sword-like spiral tusk from a sea creature known as a narwhal, a member of the whale family. The protruding canine tooth measured an impressive 60.75ins (154.3cm) in length and sold to the London trade for £4,800.


The tusk was left to the vendor by her maternal grandmother on her death in 1994 and was possibly acquired by her father Edwin Arthur Cade (1857-1903) on his trip to Canada in 1900. 




Also offered was a second, further selection from Kent couple’s lifetime collection of fascinating handcrafted Victorian wooden souvenirs known as Mauchline ware, the 25 lots raising a total of £23,760.


Most wanted were a sycamore and penwork gaming box, the lid and sides detailed with stately homes within rural landscapes, the interior fitted with two gaming counter compartments and 12 card division packs and a tea caddy decorated with Scottish views by C. Stiven Lau & Kirk, the lid depicting Keithock and with images of Stracathro, Burn, Langley Park, and Edzell to the four sides, the interior fitted with three lidded caddies depicting Findhaven Castle, Dunellar Castle, and the Abbey of Aberbrathwick. Each sold to a local collector for £5,000.


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After responding to the saleroom’s advert in Gravesham Times newspaper, a north Kent collector consigned his collection of silver snuffboxes to help fund the purchase of a house next door to his parents. It raised a total just under £7,800, the top lot being a vesta case, the front enamelled in colours with a racehorse and jockey galloping in a landscape with a castle and church in the background.


By Samuel Mordan, one of the best makers, and assayed in London in 1888, it measured just  2.25ins x 1.25ins x .375ins, by, London 1888  and had a gross weight of 1.1ozs but sold to an Oxford-based internet bidder for £640 – twice its presale low estimate.




A collection of police truncheons and swordstick sold for £3,980 and £6,930 respectively.


The much-publicised charity sale of a replica of Dr Who’s time-travelling Tardis the creation of lifelong Dr Who fan Jason Onion from Herne Bay raised £3,200. It was sold to raise money for Children in Need and the auctioneers waived their commission so the charity receives the full hammer price.


The so-called ‘Herne Bay Tardis’ was built by Mr Onion as a tribute to Dr Who co-creator, the late Anthony Coburn, a BBC writer who lived in Herne Bay. It was unveiled by Mr Coburn’s widow, Joan, in 2013 to mark the programme’s 50th anniversary, fittingly stepping from it when it ‘landed’ at the town’s bandstand.


It was purchased on the internet by a big fan of the cult BBC TV sci-fi programme. He is currently living in a one bedroom flat but will be soon moving to a new house with a garden where he plans to keep it.


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The 2018 calendar of sales at The Canterbury Auction Galleries is now available and online and entries of good quality furniture, antiques, works of art and collectors’ items are invited for the first fine art sale on February 6-7. For further information, please contact the saleroom, telephone 01277 763337 or


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