Perhaps it is because our time here on earth is so short in the grand scheme of things that some collectors are willing to spend literally millions on antiques, many of which may have been considered worthless in their own time. Or, it could be that human nature leads us to want something that no one else on the planet can boast of having. Of course there is the odd connoisseur that truly appreciates the rare beauty of a piece and is willing to pay anything it takes to own it, but to those of us who enjoy browsing the shops, markets and estate sales, these top 10 most expensive antiques ever auctioned are something we can only dream of owning in another time and another place.
10. Harrington Commode – £3,793,250
In tenth place of the top 10 most expensive antiques ever auctioned is Thomas Chippendale’s Harrington Commode which is recorded as being auctioned by Sotheby’s in London on 7th December 2010 for more than four times its estimate!
Although the serpentine form is not an example of his traditional style, it is thought to be one of the finest examples of Chippendale’s genius. As a George III marquetry commode, the design is indicative of just how versatile the designer was as he could be commissioned to conform to any taste whilst adding his own unique definition to the style.
9. Germain Royal Soup Tureen – £6,445,397
Can you imagine eating a bowl of soup which was served from a soup tureen that is worth almost £6.5 million Pounds? Now that would be a meal fit for a king! This exquisite tureen which was made for Louis XV is described as having a lid that is akin to an old masterpiece.
The lid intricately depicts vegetables, fish and fowl and the piece itself is thought to be one of the finest surviving silver pieces that weren’t melted down to finance such historical wars as the French Revolution and the Seven Years’ War.
It is unknown who bought this bit of French history but we do know it auctioned at Sotheby’s New York in November of 1996 and is thought to be the highest selling example of decorative arts from France.
8. Antique Secretary Desk by the Goddard & Townsend Families – £7,580,977
Both the Goddard and Townsend families were 18th century Quakers living in America amongst a cabinetmaking community in Rhode Island. This Chippendale style antique secretary is said to be only one of 7 to 9 such pieces in existence, thus its intrinsic net worth.
The Goddard – Townsend Chippendale antique secretary is said to have been crafted sometime around the year 1760 and is also said to be the most expensive piece of American furniture ever auctioned. As number 8 on the top 10 most expensive antiques ever auctioned, this Chippendale antique secretary sold to the Brown family at an auction by Christies, New York in 1989.
How would you like to explain to your wife that you paid £7.5 million for a secretary? “Don’t worry dear, she’s very old.”
7. Illustrated Folio of the Persian Shah circa 1500s – £7,643.629
As recently as May of this year (2011) Sotheby’s in London auctioned this perfect example of illustrated Islamic art. Rounding out the number 7 spot on the top ten most expensive antiques ever auctioned, the Illustrated Folio which was made for the Shah of Persia sometime in the 1500s.
According to Art Daily, this opaque watercolour is acknowledged to be one of the finest illustrated manuscripts of all time from literally any culture. They further proclaim it to be one of the finest works of art as well. From a historical perspective, it is one of the scenes of the Persian national epic.
The Illustrated Folio is the most expensive piece of Islamic art ever auctioned or sold.
6. Emerald & Diamond Tiara Once Belonging to the Wife of FrenchEmperor Napoleon III – £7,994,484
Another of the top 10 most expensive antiques ever auctioned was sold at Sotheby’s May 2011 which is impressive in itself. This emerald and diamond tiara is said to have belonged to the wife of the French emperor Napoleon III, not to be confused with Bonaparte!
It was originally commissioned by Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, a German prince, for Katharina who was his second wife. The buyer remains anonymous at this time.
5. Ming Dynasty Gold Tripod Vessel – £9,397,905
Ah, finally we come to the Ming Dynasty, the most famous of all periods in Chinese artefacts! This lovely 18k gold tripod vessel is a rare beauty depicting two dragons, masterfully crafted and pursuing what are described as ‘flaming pearls.’
The piece dates from the Xuande period and is embellished with turquoise, natural pearls, rubies, chrysoberyl and sapphires. Experts on Ming artefacts believe that this may be one of only eight gold pieces surviving this period. As number 5 in the top 10 most expensive antiques ever auctioned it is also the most expensive piece of Chinese metalwork to ever have been auctioned or sold.
Just prior to the Auction in April of 2008 it was thought that one of the increasing numbers of Chinese millionaires would win the bid, but in the end a westerner won out at almost £9.4 million.
4. Moonflask in Pink and Blue Enamel w/ White Porcelain – £10,024,432
As the fourth most expensive antique ever auctioned, there is grace, beauty and an abundance of historical significance in the Moonflask which is said to date from the Qianlong dynasty because of the six character mark. The consensus places it as being crafted anywhere from 1736 to 1795.
Oddly, there is an identical flask in Tokyo’s Matsuoka Art Museum and it is believed that the two were originally a pair. The remarkable characteristics of the Moonflask are the unique combination of colours used with porcelains of this technique.
The Moonflask was last sold at an auction at Christie’s in Honk Kong, December of 2010. It is currently unknown who the winning bidder was or of what ethnic background. Since it is one of a pair it will be interesting to see if the ‘unknown bidder’ will vie for its mate or if Japan will seek out this flask to pair it with the one in their collection!
3. Olyphant – £10,650,959
It is unlikely that anyone would carry a battle horn worth more than £10 million to the frontlines, but that’s exactly what an Olyphant is – a battle horn oftentimes called a hunting horn.
This marvellous piece is undoubtedly the most expensive antique ever auctioned in Scandinavia and it was most likely crafted in the 11th Century. There are in fact six of the same ornament family known to be in existence worldwide.
2. Badminton Cabinet – £19,045,250
It is no wonder the Badminton Cabinet fetched an amazing £19 million as it is perhaps one of the finest pieces of furniture crafted in Florence during the Medici control and it took six years to build with 30 craftsmen working their magic.
Although it is in second place on the top 10 most expensive antiques ever auctioned, the Badminton Cabinet has twice held the number one spot. It currently resides in the Liechtenstein Museum where it can be appreciated by all who visit the museum, unlike so many antiques in private collections.
1. Pinner Qing Dynasty Vase – £53,000,000
Finally, what we have all been waiting for, the most expensive antique ever auctioned. Having been auctioned in the UK in 2010, the Pinner Qing Dynasty Vase is believed to date back to sometime around the year 1740.
At one point the vase was inspected by a television show called ‘Going for a Song’ and incorrectly labelled a ‘nice replica.’ Since then it was dated and appraised by various experts and found to be authentic. Anyone who has a few moments on their hands might be intrigued by the rich history of how this piece came to be ‘discovered’ and auctioned.
How odd it may seem that three of the top 10 most expensive antiques ever auctioned were crafted in a country we often equate with bargain basement products. All too often we see the words ‘made in China’ and automatically assume that we will be getting inferior products that won’t withstand the test of time. Tell that to the collectors who own some of the world’s most exquisite artwork that is still pristine hundreds of years later!