Pinner Vase Sale a £51m Stiff?

Intrigue and sabotage blamed for the sales collapse

The internationally reported sale of an 18th century Qianlong-dynasty Chinese vase from a small suburban London auction house last November has fallen through. Bainbridge’s of Ruislip scored the record, for the highest price realized for a piece of Chinese art, sold in the UK. The fact of the matter is the buyer has never payed for it and it looks like the sale was either shambolic or a severe case of buyers remorse. There are strong suspicions circulating that the auction house may be the latest victims of a plot by the Chinese government to sabotage auctions involving valuable antiques, said to be stolen from China by sending agents to bid for the artefact and then failing to pay for them. The buyer is said to be an “extremely wealthy” Chinese industrialist, who is said to have been pushed to buy the vase “at all costs”, after losing an auction for a similar, less expensive vase in Hong Kong. The sellers who have said that the vase came from the loft of a deceased relative have never disclosed their identities. They were described as a brother and sister who found the 16ins (41cm) double-walled vase among a deceased relative’s possessions in a Pinner semi. Towards the end of the auction, increments for the lot were coming in at a million per bid. The hammer went down so hard that it split and shot across the room. In the end the total was £51.6m, including the buyer’s premium. The Telegraph reported , James Lally, a top New York dealer who saw the vase in London, said: “I’m very sceptical. There are a number of people who do not find it convincing.” Mr Bainbridge, who has been sworn to secrecy over the vendors’ identities, was unable to confirm that any payment had been made. If the sale does not go through, not only will the vendors not receive their millions but neither will Mr Bainbridge, whose firm stood to make £8.6m. Instead, he is likely to only receive a large bill for the insurance and safe storage of the item awaiting its final destination. The auction house now has the option to approach the second highest bidder and accept a much lower offer, or put the Vase back on the market with a potential cloud over its authenticity. Bainbridge’s does not have the experience or the clout of larger rooms such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Even if they were to take the case to court . It would have to be fought in China with a very different legal system. A successful outcome would be unlikely. Chinese buyers on auction websites like ebay have a dubious reputation for non payment to sellers and this latest  case comes as no surprise to many.