Provincial sale rooms get highly excited when Chinese artworks turn up for auction, following the record-breaking £43m paid for a Qianlong-dynasty vase in Ruislip last year. However, they’d rather wait for that elusive Gillows antique dining table in Cumbria, after hearing of a number of non-payments from Asian buyers. So far, the Ruislip auction house has not seen a penny of its money – despite shipping the vase to China in November.
An export restriction on an antique desk in Preston is more likely to be a heritage issue than a fraud investigation. On the whole any non-payments are small, and criminal activity restricted to the odd internet or bank card scam. However, French auction houses have fallen victim to a large number of high-profile non-payments, all from seemingly wealthy Asian clients. Naturally, there should be no animosity between continents when dealing antiques, but French auctioneers have been forced to adopt a tough stance with Chinese bidders, in an effort to stamp the practice out.
Purchasing a Bonheur du jour antique desk from Toulouse auction house Marc Labarbe should pose few problems. However, the arrival of a Qianlong military scroll, valued at £2.6m – £4.4m, was enough to convince them to ask for a returnable deposit of 200,000 Euros (£176,000) from potential buyers, who also had to sign a contract of payment. This did nothing to deter the eight bidders, all but one of whom was Asian. The scroll eventually sold for £16m – although not to the buyer of the Ruislip vase. He was banned.
No such draconian measures are needed with antique dealers in Cumbria or Preston, where Victorian dining chairs and antique chests can still be bought with a cheque.
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