The auction world was left stunned recently when an 18th century Chinese imperial seal sold for a staggering €21 million (HK$170.2 million). It wasn’t just the price tag that caused a stir, though. The amount was over 20 times the original estimate. Unsurprisingly, the auction house, Drouot, was delighted with the outcome.
The rare beige and red nephrite stamp is believed to date back to the Qianlong period, between 1736 and 1795. Once owned by Emperor Qianlong – the longest serving monarch in Chinese history – it features nine dragons across the sides, said to represent Qianlong’s empirical power and masculinity. Nine is also the maximum figure in Chinese cosmology.
Prior to the frantic bidding war, the seal had been in the same family for over 100 years, after it was acquired by a French naval doctor in the late 19th century.
“The seal was used to sign paintings by Emperor Qianlong himself, along with calligraphy,” according to Alice Jossot, an expert at Drouot.
Although the emperor was famed for his collection of seals (as many as 1,800 are once thought to have existed), just under half of the seals have vanished in the centuries since. The new owner is an unnamed Chinese collector; other items in the collection included two paintings by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.