Four-minute frenzy as deep-pocketed bidders push Chinese vase to €110,000


An unlikely bidding war erupted when two collectors went after a small Chinese vase in the salesroom, writes MICHAEL PARSONSin Durrow, Co Laois

“PEOPLE COLLECT everything – the weirdest stuff, thank God,” said Philip Sheppard ahead of a sale yesterday of antiques and collectibles at his family-run business in Co Laois.

Sheppards Irish Auction House in the village of Durrow, off the main Dublin-Cork road, was established after the second World War, and has been selling to a loyal – and increasingly international clientele – ever since.

Amid the 984 lots at yesterday’s auction was a number of items of Chinese porcelain which had been consigned for sale by a Co Carlow family who had “inherited the collection”.

Most of the items had a pre-sale estimate of €100-€150. During the sale preview on Monday, Mr Sheppard mentioned casually that a Chinese woman had flown from Beijing via Heathrow to Dublin and “then straight down to Co Laois”. But there was no sense of the drama about to unfold.

Rong Chen (48), a fluent English speaker, told The Irish Timesthat her husband Xing Chen, an accountant and antiques collector in Beijing, had seen the auction advertised on Sheppards’ website. She agreed to travel to Ireland to bid on his behalf.

The auction, which began at 10.30am, was progressing quietly when the Chinese lots began to appear shortly after noon. Some of the early lots sold within or slightly above estimate, but gradually prices began to rise. When Lot 258, a pair of Chinese polychrome vases estimated at €100-€150 sold for €41,000, the mood in the saleroom changed dramatically.

Bids had flooded in by telephone and the internet, but the buyer was London dealer Richard Peters, a renowned oriental ceramics expert, who had also come over to attend the sale.

He and Ms Chen then went head-to-head in an intense battle of nerves for the next item: a 12-inch high “Chinese blue and white vase” of “bulbous form”. An opening offer of €50 was followed by four minutes of frenzied bidding, which ended in victory for Mr Peters at €110,000.

He later said he had “got a bargain”, while Ms Chen said she was “very disappointed”. She said she had been taking instructions on her mobile phone from her husband in Beijing and, as the bidding spiralled upwards, he “was saying go, go go” before asking her to stop at €100,000.

Mr Peters, who runs an antiques business on London’s Kensington Church Street, said the vase was from the Peking palace of the Emperor Qianlong, and was made in the 18th century. He hoped to sell it to a “private client in China or London”.

Mr Peters, who flew back to London last night, paid a total of €129,965 for the vase when the buyer’s premium and VAT were added to his final bid of €110,000.

Describing herself as “disappointed and tired”, Ms Chen also left Co Laois yesterday afternoon on the first leg of her long journey to Beijing. She bought a number of lesser items, spending about €3,000.

Mr Sheppard said the vase and the other Chinese porcelain items in the auction formed part of a collection amassed by “two Carlow sisters” who had lived in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. He believed the vase had been bought in the city of Philadelphia.

The ladies were “now deceased” and the collection had been inherited by a family in Co Carlow. He called the family yesterday afternoon with news of the sale and said they were “delighted and chuffed”. Asked why the estimated price had been so low, he said the firm specialised in 18th century furniture rather than ceramics, but had “the expertise to market a sale to the right people”.

His uncle, company founder Christy Sheppard (87), was also delighted with the result. He said he had survived “numerous recessions”, adding: “we’ve never had a flop” in over 60 years of auctions.