Fine art, antiques and collectables worth £8m, consigned from the UK by a consortium of regional auctioneers, are currently on a container ship heading to China.
They are set for a ground-breaking sale at the Xiamen Free Port in Fujian Province on April 21.
The first event of its type to promote Western antiques in China, it is the initiative of the recently-formed Association of Accredited Auctioneers (Triple-A). The association comprises 21 of the leading independent auctioneers from around the UK who have pooled their resources to promote this quintessentially English industry in China. To avoid red tape the sale will be conducted by the Chinese auctioneer Huachen Auctions, with all consignments imported 'duty-free' until they are sold.
As has previously been reported, Triple-A have already enrolled in an escrow and foreign exchange licensing system - organised by, but operated independently of, online bidding portal EpaiLive - that ensures payments are made by successful bidders and can be transmitted into Sterling without delay. The sale itself will be conducted in RMB, the local currency.
The consignments currently in transit, in time for pre-sale viewing at the British Ambassador's residence in Beijing on April 12, represent a cross-section of Western taste and collecting disciplines designed to test the Chinese appetite for European art and antiques. Quite how strong this is now (or may be in the future) remains a great unknown, but Triple-A's chairman, Chris Ewbank, said consignors had embraced the concept.
"We have been overwhelmed by support for the sale by Triple-A members and their clients, and whilst the logistics of pulling this sale together have been immense, everything is going to plan," he said.
Vendors involved in the project will be charged what Mr Ewbank termed "a relatively modest administration fee" that primarily reflects the cost of shipping.
The sale will comprise just under 400 lots - less than half the number suggested when the ambitious project was first mooted late last year - but the combined low estimate will be around £8m. "Our original plan was to initiate a consignment worth in the region of £1.5m-£2m," said Mr Ewbank. "In response to the strength of support from Triple-A member clients, and given the practical problems in moving so many objects first to Beijing and then Xiamen, it was decided to concentrate on quality and not quantity."
Members of the trade have consigned some of the headline items.
Led by a Louis XVI-style gilt-bronze-mounted mahogany commode à vantaux with bronze mounts by Léon Kahn (estimate £100,000-120,000), there are 160 lots of antique furniture and works of art, while close to 100 paintings range from Russian social realism to the French graffiti artist Blek le Rat.
Chinese buyers have already shown their enthusiasm for English clocks (and here among 50 lots of clocks and silver is a George I ebony table clock by John Shaw of Holborn estimated at £12,000-14,000), while a further 50 lots of coins, stamps, books and manuscripts include a trail sheet of Penny Blacks with red cancellations, estimated at £200,000.