When the contents of 14th century manor house Melplash Court were auctioned off in Dorchester recently; Cumbrian buyers were out in force. However, it wasn’t Victorian antique dining chairs which caught their eye, but the exquisite Chinese and Oriental artworks collected during the owner’s travels abroad.
Presided over by Duke’s auctioneers, the sale – which took place over three days – also included European fine art and English country house furniture. Among the antique desks, a handsome George I bureau realised £7,000, while a pair of Georgian card tables sold for over £10,000. Cumbrian buyers also saw early Victorian antique dining chairs, chests and mirrors realise good prices.
However, it was the Oriental day which drew the most gasps. The owner of the house, Mr Timothy Lewis, had amassed a huge collection of Asian artworks, with almost 430 included in Dukes’ catalogue. But if there were any Lancashire buyers hoping for a piece of Chinese jade to adorn their English antique desks, they were out of luck. The sale was dominated by Chinese internet and telephone bidders who methodically stockpiled the entire collection – one man spending over £1 million alone.
The Chinese buyers fought hard, pushing bidding well above estimates. Among the most exciting was a Qianlong period hardwood carving estimated at £30,000- 50,000, which sold for £350,000; a pair of blue and white candlesticks estimated at £5,000-10,000 which sold for £86,000, and a Ming Buddhist lion, estimated at £2,000- 4,000 – which went for an astonishing £180,000. Thanks to the inflated Asian market, the sale realised £2.5 million in total, making this one of the highest grossing provincial auctions ever recorded.
Dealers who stock antique desks in Preston and the surrounding areas often adorn them with Chinese bric-a-brac; buying some could represent quite an investment.