What's It Worth? The High Price of Restoration

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I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Ming Dynasty porcelain is not really rare. Some very basic crude cups or bowls, in poor condition and made by “lesser hands” (in auction vernacular), can be had for as little as $50 to $100.

We were thrilled when a Tampa Bay woman paid a visit to our St. Petersburg store telling us she had a Ming “blue and white” statue sculpture of a female immortal. As to provenance, it could not get much better. She said it was sold at Christie’s to her father and she had the exact date of sale!

We happily gave her a very modest estimate of $10,000 – $20,000, confident that it would achieve the higher number. As we prepared it for auction, I searched the internet for information on the sale date she provided and was able to buy from a New York collector the exact catalog to include in the auction. Christie's had called it an “18 inch Wan Li Ming Dynasty Immortal.”

So the stage was set. Or was it? We knew upon inspection that there were some cracks and “bruises,” but the catalog revealed something we missed – an expertly restored arm. This was a problem. In Asian culture, a cracked or broken arm is bad luck. We reached out to an old colleague of ours from my Sotheby’s website days. He now has his own auction business and is a regular on Antiques Road Show specializing in Asian art. He confirmed that this piece – if in mint condition – would bring $20,000 – $30,000 or more, but with the broken arm was likely to bring less than $5,000, and the piece would probably be sold to a western collector instead of an Asian customer, due to the broken arm. We were forced to ask our consignor to lower the estimate to $5,000 – $10,000.

This statue’s repaired arm may escape your notice, but it has a real impact on the piece’s value.

Three former sothebys.com associates and two art historians on staff.Call or email us if you want to deal with Florida’s leading auctioneer. We have sold the contents of museums and collections for USF. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


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Hess Fine Art, 1131 4th St. N, St. Petersburg FL 33701.

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