600 year-old platter sells for $1 million at Ottawa auction

This item out of Ottawa is for fans of things like Antiques Roadshow – you know, where that old vase turns out to be worth real money.

The story concerns something called a “charger”, according to Jeffery Walker, co-owner of Walker’s Fine Art and Estate Auctions. You or I might be tempted to call it a plate or platter, but that’s imprecise. Speaking by phone Walker explained this item would have been decorative, not functional. A fine piece to be displayed on a stand, or perhaps hung. (Here is a modern definition, though that may or may not be applicable to what happened in China in past centuries.)

Yuan or early Ming Dynasty Dragon Charger, reverse white slip on blue ground, 16 in (40.5 cm) diameter. Image courtesy of Walker's Fine Art & Estate Auctions

Yuan or early Ming Dynasty Dragon Charger, reverse white slip on blue ground, 16 in (40.5 cm) diameter. Image courtesy of Walker’s Fine Art & Estate Auctions

Its age was estimated at around 600 years, more or less.

As reported by the CBC,

A foreign bidder who flew to Ottawa for the auction and was sitting at the front of the room made the winning bid of $1,025,000. Bidding had started at just $300. His main opponent was someone bidding by phone.

Wednesday’s event was also written up by the Ottawa Citizen:

The buyer, who didn’t want his name or even his nationality revealed, travelled to Ottawa and competed with Internet and telephone bidders for the plate. He didn’t enter the fray until bidding reached $250,000.

“From a quarter-million it started to get quiet,” Walker relates. “It was really ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ up to about a quarter. Really quiet from a quarter to a half-million, and you could hear a pin drop above a half million, until the hammer came down at a million-and-twenty-five, and applause.”

Walker said some media accounts may have left the impression the initial appraisal of under $1,000 was wildly off-target. In fact, he said there are fundamental differences in approaching certain markets. It’s easier to be more precise with established types of western art. In this case, Walker said it was actually important to be intentionally conservative, which is no slight to an item’s actual or potential value. The market for fine Chinese antiques is a whole different world, one that is changing rapidly and not easily predicted.

Walker told me buyers have their own ways to assess an item’s value, through the use of agents or the option for private viewings prior to the sale. (And then there’s the reality of selling anything: the value can be what a particular buyer is willing to pay.)

And where did this charger come from? According to the Citizen:

The plate came from the estate of Waltraud (Wally) Ellis, a Belleville, Ont., woman who died in June. She was the widow of John Ellis, former Progressive Conservative MP for Hastings and Prince Edward-Hastings. The pottery is believed to have been passed down by her Austrian grandparents.

Walker said he and co-owner (and sister) Christine Ross were thrilled to be a part of a rare event, which will also benefit the cause of Canadian Art. According to media accounts, Ellis willed the charger to the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, described as “Canada’s national ceramics museum, and one of the world’s great specialty museums”. The museum decided to sell the piece and use the proceeds to invest in Canadian pottery, which is their mandate.

Walker said he likes to support worthy institutions and in this case the auction house waived the usual fee. Happily, the house buyer’s premium still came to a cool $175,000.

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1 Comment on “600 year-old platter sells for $1 million at Ottawa auction”

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  1. Walker says:

    Nice plate! Too bad there isn’t a set of eight. At that price…

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