Silver hunting flask

The silver hunting flask taken from the Summer Palace in 1860.

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UPDATE: On July 5 Alastair Gibson Auctions decided to withdraw the flask from auction ahead of the sale. Read more about the decision here.


However, Alastair Gibson Auctions plans to go ahead with the sale on behalf of the vendor, a small UK military museum, and will offer the 10in (24cm) high silver flask with an estimate of £60,000-80,000 on July 6.

In a translation of the letter from the office of Yuanming Yuan (The Old Summer Palace) in Beijing to Gibson, it states that “the auction house should stop the auction of this illegally looted silver flask and lost cultural relic. Our office will continue to follow the progress of this event and reserves the right to take further action as the situation warrants.”

Gibson said: “I have written to the Yuanmingyuan office, and we are in discussion prior to the auction on July 6. We are happy to consider any private treaty offer by 12 noon on Tuesday, July 5.

“Online bidding is unavailable on this lot, so commission, telephone bids, or live bidding in the room is available subject to a deposit of £10,000 being paid.”

As previewed in ATG No 2541, the flask, also known as the ‘Anson Cup’, includes two inscriptions. One in Chinese characters to the foot reads Xianfeng urh men (the second year of Xianfeng for 1852) and the other in English reads The Hunting Flask of the Emperor of China taken from the Summer Palace, Pekin and presented to the London Scottish Volunteers By Colonel the Hon A Anson VC.

It was gifted to the London Scottish Volunteers by Colonel Archibald Augustus Anson (1835-77) who served with the regiment between 1867-73. The flask was subsequently used as a shooting prize.

Anson, the third son of the 1st Earl of Litchfield, was a career soldier. Present at the sacking of the Summer Palace, one of Anson’s tasks was to organise the auction of seized objects with the money shared among the troops.

The flask is dated to the second year of the Emperor Xianfeng in 1852.

The emperor married Ci’an in 1852 and Gibson believes it is possible that this flask was made for the celebration of the wedding.

Tiger Ying

Gibson has previous experience selling items taken from the Summer Palace and was involved in the 2018 auction of the Tiger Ying – a Western Zhou bronze ying with a similar provenance offered by Canterbury Auction Galleries.

The auction went ahead with the anonymous purchaser paying £410,000 and later gifting it to the National Museum of China in Beijing.