Wiltshire Publications

Record result as cups heading for the skip make £11,640

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IN an exciting online auction based in Westbury, a pair of Doucai porcelain cups, produced in the Imperial kiln during the reign of Emperor Youngzheng nearly three hundred years ago, have nearly tripled their expected sale price to reach a final hammer price of over £11,000.

In a nail biting flurry of final activity, bids came in from all around the world – UK, China, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Canada – and when the lot closed at 6.45pm on 4th February, the successful bid had reached £11,640 (including fees).

“I was absolutely delighted with the result,”says the Auction Hub founder, James Harvey. “Not least because it illustrates exactly why the Auction Hub was set up – giving clients a boutique service that combines all the bespoke experience of traditional auctioneers with the power and global reach of the internet.”

Rare and remarkable examples of 18th Century Chinese craftsmanship, the Doucai cups belonged to Lady Sally Peel, the widow of Sir John Peel. The most eminent obstetrician of his generation, Sir John Peel served as the surgeon-gynaecologist to Queen Elizabeth II from 1961-1973 and died, aged 101, in 2005.

“He lived an extraordinary life’ says Lady Peel who, after a lifelong friendship blossomed into a late life love story, became Sir John’s third wife in 1993. “And lots of it was lived without me.” For as long as she had known him, two small enameled porcelain Chinese cups had sat on the mantelpiece of their home. “I never knew where they had come from – a grateful patient, most probably”, Lady Peel recalls. “I just dusted them occasionally and thought what a shame it was that one of them had a chip.”

When Lady Peel was packing up the home that she had shared with her husband, she almost threw the cups away, but her sister persuaded her otherwise. 

When James Harvey – whom she had hired on the recommendation of a friend to help her sell some of the contents of the house – saw them, he was quick to spot their potential value. Produced during the reign of Emperor Yongzheng (1723-35), the cups were produced as an aesthetic homage to pieces originally produced during the reign of Chengua, the ninth Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1464-87). 

What is particularly remarkable about these extraordinarily delicate, hand painted pieces – whose most likely purpose would have been as ceremonial wine cups – is the reign mark on their underside, a six figure mark in Chinese script which bears accurate testimony to their date and origin.

“I do so wish he had known,” says Lady Peel of the unknown treasures on her late husband’s mantelpiece. “And I’m very glad I didn’t throw them away!”

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