Stein of the Month: January 2001

~ Chinese Tankards at Auction ~

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This month we take a brief look at two exceptional tankards which were sold at auction by Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury, England, in 1994.

The catalog description for lot 266. reads "Two Chinese blue and white silver gilt mounted cylindrical tankards, one decorated with three figures in a landscape, a nobleman with his attendant being presented with a vase, the other decorated with the Wa Wa, the seven little boys in procession through a rocky landscape carrying a hobbyhorse, cymbals and flags. The cobalt blue of intense color on each, the lids with floral scroll and geometric patterns, transitional. c.1640-1645, 10.25in. (2) [estimated selling range] 3000-4000 [about $4800-6400 in 1994]."

The Antique Trade Gazette of October 29th, 1994 reported on the sale under the headline "Silver dealer sets ceramics house record". "It was the Oriental section which produced the great excitement in the form of a most attractive pair of Chinese blue and white silver gilt mounted cylindrical tankards of the Transitional period, c.1640-1645... Interestingly, the matching lids were made 30 to 40 years later than the vases and the silver gilt mounting was applied at this time.

"Featured in color on the catalogue cover, the pair were eminently saleable and like to go above the estimate of 3000-4000 (although this expectation was not actually as ludicrous as it subsequently seemed).

"[Auctioneer John] Axford was convinced the ceramics trade would not bid above 10,000 and in one of the strangest bidding battles I have encountered for some time he was proved right. There were some top dealers in Oriental ceramics bidding but all lost interest after bid hit five figures but the running was taken up by the silver trade.

"Three London silver specialists battled it out on the telephone and the hammer fell at a staggering 37,000. It was the silver gilt mounts which proved the strongest selling point in the ceramics sale. What is more the silver gilt was unmarked and opinion was divided as to whether it emanated from England or Holland.

"Asked for an opinion of the country of origin the buyer apparently said that it did not really matter.

"The tankards had belonged to an elderly local lady who attended the sale and, not surprisingly, cracked open a bottle of champagne on the spot.

"She had a lot to celebrate."

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