Ming dynasty 'chicken cup' smashes record in $36 million sale

Tue Apr 8, 2014 6:17am EDT
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A rare wine cup fired in the imperial kilns of China's Ming dynasty more than 500 years ago sold on Tuesday for HK$281.2 million at a Sotheby's sale in Hong Kong, making it one of the most expensive Chinese cultural relics ever auctioned.

The tiny porcelain cup from the Chenghua period, dating from 1465 to 1487, is painted with cocks, hens and chicks, and known simply as a 'chicken cup'.

It is considered one of the most sought-after items in Chinese art, viewed with a reverence perhaps equivalent to that for the jeweled Faberge eggs of Tsarist Russia.

"Every time a chicken cup comes up on the market, it totally redefines prices in the field of Chinese art," said Nicolas Chow, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Asia, after the sale.

The last time a similar chicken cup was auctioned, in 1999, it fetched HK$29 million, around a tenth of Tuesday's price.

With just 16 known Chenghua chicken cups surviving to the present day, most in public museums, only a handful have ever come to auction. Only four of these remain in private hands.

Prized by Chinese emperors and aficionados through the centuries for their quality, rarity and legendary silky texture, Chenghua chicken cups fired in the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen are among the most prized, and forged, objects in Chinese art.

In a packed auction hall, bidding for the delicate, palm-sized cup began at HK$160 million and drew steady bids from three parties, before being eventually sold to major Chinese collector Liu Yiqian for a bid of HK$250 million.   Continued...