Ming-style vase is auctioned for $1.38 million

The vase, sold at Freeman's auction house, is from the Qianlong period (circa 1736) and had belonged to a Boston collector.
The vase, sold at Freeman's auction house, is from the Qianlong period (circa 1736) and had belonged to a Boston collector.
Posted: March 20, 2011

In an entirely more sophisticated expression of March Madness, Freeman's auction house sold a Ming-style vase from the Qianlong period (circa 1736) Saturday for an apparent world-record $1.38 million.

Sotheby's sold a nearly identical vase in Hong Kong in 2008 for $750,000, said Zoe Hillenmeyer, Freeman's spokeswoman.

She declined to identify the buyer but said he had been in the room at the time of the sale. The auction house was packed beyond its 60 seats, Hillenmeyer said, with 20 or more individuals standing, all 15 phone lines busy, and an additional 70 or 80 people bidding via the Web.

The buyer was most likely bidding by proxy for a collector in China, she said.

Freeman's sells Asian objects twice a year, and Saturday's auction was the first in a series that will end in June.

"It was an exciting way to open the season," Hillenmeyer said, barely containing her excitement.

No, it wasn't Temple vs. San Diego State (Temple lost, 71-64, in double overtime), but the sales floor at Freeman's, the nation's oldest auction house and Philadelphia's oldest business (founded in 1805), was about as animated as it ever gets.

"There is usually polite applause after the sale of a lot," Hillenmeyer said. But after the gavel was struck on Lot 603, she said, "there was some hooting and hollering, a bit."

The blue-and-white vase had been the property of a noted Boston collector, also unidentified.

In all, Freeman's sold more than $4.7 million worth of Asian objects Saturday, another record in the firm's more than 200-year history.

"With the market still expanding, we were pleased, but not surprised, to see our example of this iconic vase set the record at auction," said Rob Waterhouse, who heads Freeman's Asian division and who was the auctioneer for the vase.

The vase was not the only piece to outshine its predicted value. Another Qianlong period vase, carved from jade and consigned by the same owner, sold for $421,000, amid heavy bidding.


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com.

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