Chinese moon flasks

A pair of blue and white ‘bats and peaches’ moon flasks sold for £295,000 at Nesbits Auctions.

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Guided at just £50-100, a pair of blue and white moon flasks or bianhu decorated with cartouches of bats in flight encircling peaches hammered at £295,000 (plus 19% buyer’s premium) on March 6.

They came for sale from a Portsmouth vendor who has made occasional consignments to auction house as he clears his mother’s home. Saleroom manager Dan Tricker said they had been a recent find in the attic.

Although the auction house catalogued them as 20th century with apocryphal six-character Qianlong (1736-95) marks, the flasks were deemed to be 18th century by a significant number of the potential bidders who had either travelled to Hampshire to handle them or viewed a dozen or more digital images online. Of a series of shots taken of the vases under ultraviolet light, none betrayed signs of restoration.

Chinese moon flasks

A detail of one of the pair of blue and white ‘bats and peaches’ moon flasks sold for £295,000 at Nesbits Auctions.

A London dealer remained competitive until around £250,000 before the final throes of the contest was taken up by two bidders from the Far East. Via an agent, the lot sold to a Chinese buyer who has bought previously at Nesbits.

Dan Tricker had been on the phone to a UK bidder for the highlight for his career thus far. He told ATG the sale coincided with his 10th year at the company, and a decade in charge for managing director and long-term Nesbits employee John Cameron. “It was a great way to mark our 10th year anniversaries,” he said.

Standing just under 10in (24cm) high and painted in the Ming-style, these bianhu belong to a well-known group of Qing imperial porcelain designs that enjoyed remarkable popularity and continuity. Made from the Qianlong period, they were produced until the 25th year of the Daoguang emperor, corresponding to 1845. The design of bats (fu) and peaches (shoutao) contains a highly auspicious message: together they form the pun ‘May you have both blessings and longevity’ making them particularly suitable as birthday gifts.

Qianlong mark

The Qianlong mark to one of the pair of blue and white ‘bats and peaches’ moon flasks sold for £295,000 at Nesbits Auctions.

A number of single flasks with the same decoration and of comparable size have appeared on the market in the past. Imperial quality works from the Qianlong period have sold in Hong Kong for close to £200,000 while others deemed later reproductions have commanded much more modest sums.

The new house record at Nesbits, among the South Coast’s longest-established auction houses, is more than six times the firm’s previous high: a Sino-Tibetan gilt bronze bodhisattva sold at £48,000.