A family who saw their dreams of a £43 million windfall disappear after the auction of their Chinese vase went wrong, are finally more than £20 million better off following a new sale.
Tony Johnson and his mother Gene thought they had sold the 18th century piece in 2010. A Chinese billionaire buyer entered a winning bid of £43 million but is believed to have balked at paying an extra 20 per cent in auctioneers’ fees, which would have brought the price to a record £51.6 million.
Peter Bainbridge, who owns the provincial auction house that “sold” the vase, tried to save the deal by negotiating with the buyer but with no success. After a two-year stalemate, the international auctioneer Bonhams was approached by an interested party to broker a deal between them and Mr Johnson and Mr Bainbridge.
The new unidentified buyer from the Far East is believed to have paid up to £25 million for the vase.
Colin Sheaf, an expert from Bonhams who is one of the world’s leading authorities on Asian art, is believed to have been instrumental in broking the private deal.
The 16in porcelain vase was made for the Chinese emperor Qianlong, who ruled from 1736 to 1795. It was looted from the Imperial Summer Palace during raids by the British and French in 1860.
Mr Johnson, 56, from the Isle of Wight, and his elderly mother inherited it from her late sister, Patricia Newman, in January 2010. It had belonged to Mrs Newman’s late husband who had in turn inherited it from an uncle who brought it back from China.
Mr Johnson, a former solicitor, believed it could be valuable and contacted Bainbridges auctioneers of Ruislip, Middlesex. The object attracted great interest from Chinese bidders at the auction in November 2010 and it sold for 40 times its estimate before the dispute erupted. Ivan Macquisten, the editor of Antiques Trades Gazette, said the deal that has now been reached for what was “one of the finest pieces ever made in China” was the best result for everybody concerned.
He said Mr Bainbridge could not have budged on the 20 per cent buyer’s premium otherwise he could have been exposed to a legal case by the underbidder.
“From what I can gather Peter Bainbridge has been compensated,” he added. “The price of between £20 million and £25 million is fair. The vendor would have walked away with a good chunk of that and Bonhams would have got a decent fee.”