Dead-Beat Vase Finally Sold

A Chinese vase for which a bidder offered a record 51.6 million pounds ($83 million) at auction more than two years ago has been re-sold for less than half that price, after the original purchaser failed to pay.

The elaborately decorated 18th-century porcelain vase, described as being made for the Qianlong Emperor, was auctioned by Bainbridge Auctions in Ruislip, west London, on Nov. 11, 2010.

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The original winning bid was more than 50 times the pre-sale estimate, and considered an absurd price for the work. It was a record sum for any Asian work of art ever offered at auction.

The bid was made by an agent in the room on behalf of the Beijing-based collector, Wang Yaohui.

However, Wang never paid for the vase, leaving its value --- along with comparative Qianlong antiquities -- in limbo

The consignors, a retired solicitor, Tony Johnson and his mother Gene, waited two years for a resolution. They have now sold the vase to another buyer for an undisclosed price between 20 million pounds and 25 million pounds.

The private transaction was brokered by the London-based auction house Bonhams.

The vase has now been exported. Not surprisingly, the new owner has been identified by dealers as another Asian collector.

“Bonhams is pleased to confirm the sale of the vase for an undisclosed sum, in a private treaty deal,” according to an email from Julian Roup, Bonhams’s director of press and marketing.

House Cleaning

The Qing-dynasty rarity, shown here, featuring a pierced “reticulated” body painted in a pastel-colored “famille rose” palette, was discovered during a routine house clearance in the London suburb of Pinner.

The record bid for the so-called “Ruislip Vase” was the highest of a series of big-ticket prices for imperial Chinese porcelain that were pledged, if not always paid, by Asian bidders at auctions in 2010.

Auction sales of art and antiques in China in 2010 were valued at 6 billion euros ($8.6 billion), a 177 percent increase on 2009, according to a European Fine Art Foundation report published in March 2011.

Further auctions and dealer transactions in the West turned the trade in Chinese artifacts into a business worth more than $10 billion, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Since then, demand for Chinese antiques has declined as growth in the Chinese economy contracted and western auction houses introduced deposits to deter non-payers.

Though Bainbridges’s original bill for the imperial vase was never met in full, the auction house had received an interim payment, said persons with knowledge of the matter.

Peter Bainbridge, the company’s director, had consistently declined to comment on the non-payment of the vase, citing a confidentiality clause.

Wang Yaohui -- the original dead-beat bidder -- is the Beijing-based chairman of Zhonghui Guohua Industrial Group Co., Ltd.

Zhonghui Guohua is a conglomerate with interests that include real estate, hi-tech industry, construction and minerals.