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£43 million Chinese vase now centre of auction row

An anonymous Chinese billionaire who bought a stunning Chinese antique porcelain vase for a record price is believed to be disputing the auction house’s commission.

The stratospheric price paid by the anonymous Chinese buyer set the world of Chinese imperial antique ceramics on fire, but the cold water now being poured on the as yet unpaid-for purchase concerns the auction house’s premium – the commission due on every sale.

At the leading world auction venues such as Sothebys and Christies, the percentage of commission goes down as the price goes up. In the case of the unique reticulated vase, commission in London, New York or Hong Kong would have been charged at 14 per cent. Bainbridge’s, the small outer London auction house, had no such sliding scale, as they never expected to need one, with their premium set at 20 per cent.

According to a source at the Antiques Trade Gazette, the buyer, a prominent Chinese industrialist well known in the world’s major auction rooms for his purchases of similar pieces, is refusing to pay the 20 per cent.charge. Bainbridge’s are therefore left in a difficult legal position and the couple who inherited the vase and entered it for sale are without the proceeds or the vase.

According to the source, if the auction house reduces its commission to 14 per cent in line with Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the underbidder could take legal action as with a lower premium he could have made a higher bid and possibly won the piece. As a result, Bainbridge’s are left with no discretion and the sellers may not have an automatic right to the return of the vase.

Milton Silverman, a specialist legal expert with experience in acting for vendors unable to repossess items sold at auction to non-paying Chinese buyers, stated auction house terms and conditions are heavily slanted in favour of the establishment, giving it total control. The auctioneer refused to comment on the sale or the future of the vase, which can be auctioned again without the owners’ permission. .

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