Rare 19th century Chinese rhinoceros horn cup sells for world record �215,000 price at Sworders auction

A RARE Chinese ‘libation’ cup from the 19th century made from rhinoceros horn has been sold for a record �215,000 in Stansted – at more than four times its guide price.

Historically, the drinking cup - which we featured in last week’s Reporter as going under the hammer Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers in its Asian Art Sale - was used in a religious context to hold a sacrificial drink.

This example, sold at the auction in Stansted Mountfitchet on Tuesday, was important for its exquisite carvings of twisted branches and examples of typical Chinese imagery, including scenes of a boat on a river, a bridge, and a fisherman. It’s thought to date from the Qing Dynasty, possibly the second quarter of the 19th century, and started with a guide price of �50,000.

The cup is the second of its type ever sold by Sworders which auctioned a less flamboyant example last year.

Managing director Guy Schooling said: “The latest libation cup was big, with high quality carvings and a rare find despite being slightly damaged. The sale of Chinese and Japanese art, ceramics and furniture shows just how strong the market is for artefacts from that part of the world.


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“The sale attracted bidders from across the globe and the rhinoceros horn cup was bought by a Chinese buyer living in Australia who was bidding over the phone.”

Well-known TV antiques expert, David Battie, is Sworders’ resident Asian Art expert. He catalogued all the items for the auction and commenting on the sale.

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“The Chinese craving for good rhinoceros horn carvings is insatiable,” he said. “This example had an easily identifiable scene, was well carved and easily dateable.

“There was international interest in this libation cup and it attracted ten telephone bidders from all over the world with serious bidders present in the room.”

The auction also included one of the most significant private collections of Far Eastern ceramics to go on sale in a generation. The items belonged to 96 year old Ceylonese collector PH Wikramaratna, who died last year. Whilst some pieces in his collection have already been given to the British Museum and the V&A, over 200 objects went under the hammer.

The next Sworders’ Asian Art sale will be held at the Fine Art Auction Rooms in Stansted Mountfitchet on Tuesday May 15, 2012 where entries are already being accepted.

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