Home / Auction & Collectibles / Seller Pulls $39 Million Ming Dynasty Cup From Sotheby’s Auction

Seller Pulls $39 Million Ming Dynasty Cup From Sotheby’s Auction

March 11 (Bloomberg) — A 15th-century ceramic cup from the Ming Dynasty, belonging to a Swiss collector, has been pulled from a Sotheby’s (BID:US) auction to be held next month in Hong Kong.

The cup, valued at HK$200 million ($26 million) to HK$300 million, was to be offered at Sotheby’s on April 8, according to a March 6 e-mailed statement from the New York-based auction house, which touted it as a “potential record breaker.”

It comes from the Meiyintang Collection whose owner decided he would rather have the piece sold by Sotheby’s privately, said Giuseppe Eskenazi, who originally sold the piece to the collector in 2000. Results of private sales are not made public.

“He changed his mind; he doesn’t want it going everywhere and shown in every country and every city,” Eskenazi, who has helped the collector place pieces with Sotheby’s before, said today when reached by phone in London. “He wants Sotheby’s to find the right client without hundreds of people handling it.”

Nicolas Chow, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia and International Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art declined to comment. Carmen Ting, from Sotheby’s press relations in Hong Kong, said a media briefing on the cup scheduled for March 10 had been canceled.

Emperor Allegory

Eskenazi, who bought the cup for almost HK$30 million in 1999, sold it one year later to its present owner. “This is the most valuable piece of porcelain in any private collection,” he said.

The cup, made for the Chenghua emperor (1465-1487) is considered the most rare of Chinese ceramics and was likely to set an auction record, according to the Sotheby’s press release.

It has been nicknamed the “Chicken Cup” as it depicts a rooster, his hen and their chicks, an allegorical representation of the emperor, the empress and their subjects.

The “Chicken Cup” is only 8 centimeters (3.1 inches) in diameter, delicate and dainty, said Edie Hu, senior specialist of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, who noted the imagery is almost cartoonesque compared to some of the more sophisticated ceramic works of the period.

“It’s kind of intimate and personal,” Hu said. “Many things made for the emperor he probably didn’t use. I think this cup is something he actually cherished.”

Sotheby’s set an auction record for the most expensive Chinese work of art in October when Chinese property developer Zheng Huaxing paid $30.5 million for a bronze Buddha in Hong Kong, Hu said.

London-based auction house Bainbridges achieved a record hammer price plus buyers fees of 51.6 million pounds ($86 million) for a Qianlong era vase in 2010, though the buyer reneged and the vase was later sold privately for less than half that.

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