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Chinese vase valued below $2,000 sells for nearly $9 million after bidding frenzy

<i>Osenat</i><br/>A Chinese vase expected to fetch €1
A Chinese vase expected to fetch €1

Jack Guy, CNN

A Chinese vase expected to fetch €1,500-€2,000 (around $1,470-$1,960) at auction has sold for more than €9 million ($8.8 million) after a bidding war between collectors.

The blue-and-white Tianqiuping vase went under the hammer at the Osenat auction house in Fontainebleau, near Paris, on Saturday, and achieved a final price of €9.121 million including fees, according to the company website.

The vase has a spherical body and a long cylindrical neck. It measures 21 x 16 inches and is decorated with dragons and clouds, according to the listing. Tianqiuping vases are also known as “celestial sphere” vases because of their shape.

Jean-Pierre Osenat, president of the auction house, told CNN on Tuesday that the vase’s owner, who lives abroad, asked the auctioneer to sell it as part of a consignment of items taken from their late grandmother’s house in Brittany, northwestern France.

“It’s going to completely change their life,” said Osenat. “It’s hard for them to come to terms with.”

The grandmother was a keen art collector and had owned the vase for 30 years, he said, adding that there were early signs of huge interest in the vase when dozens of people came to examine it during a pre-auction exhibition.

Around 300-400 people expressed an interest in bidding, said Osenat, who eventually limited the number of bidders to 30, all of whom had to pay a deposit to take part.

There were 15 telephone bidders and 15 present at the auction house, with 10 still bidding when the price passed the €5 million mark, Osenat said.

“It’s incredible,” he said, adding that his highest previous sale price came in 2007, when a sword used by Napoleon at the Battle of Marengo in 1800 fetched $6.4 million.

Osenat explained that while a valuation expert said the vase dated from the 20th century, and was therefore not rare, collectors believed it was a very rare example of an 18th-century Tianqiuping vase.

“I have faith in the hammer, which is to say that I think the law of supply and demand determines the market price,” he said. “The view of an expert can’t outweigh that of 300 people.”

Sometimes in auctions you might see two or three people who mistakenly believe an item is far more valuable than an expert has said, but not 300, Osenat said.

“I think the market has spoken,” he said, adding that he now believes the vase dates from the 18th century.

The as-yet-unidentified buyer is Chinese, said Osenat, who added that in recent years Chinese buyers have shown increasing interest in buying historic artifacts that they believe were stolen from their country in the past.

Osenat said he believes the vase will be displayed in a museum but that he cannot be sure at this stage.

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