Napoleon’s Dessert Service Hammered Down for US$1.5m at Rockefeller’s ‘Sale of the Century’

The first US$646m evening sale of Rockefeller’s ‘Sale of the Century’ has astonished the world. It was followed by part 1 of ‘The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: English & European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations’, which also proved to be another success. A total of 253 lots were all sold.

The winner of the sale is the ‘Marly Rouge’ service, a dessert service made for Napoleon I. The service is a representation of power, as seen in the fantastic eagle heads on the handles of the pair of sugar bowls and covers. The beautiful butterflies, insects and bouquet of spring flowers are patterns of nature, which was popular in Europe at the time. This dessert service meant a great deal to Napoleon. He even brought them with him when he was exiled to Elba.

The service’s estimate price is US$150,000- 250,000. The bidding started at US$100,000 and it quickly escalated to US$150,000 after 35 bids. It was hammered down immediately and sold for US$181,000 with premium.

The second runner-up- a large Chinese export ‘Tobacco Leaf’ assembled dinner service. It’s estimate price is US$200,000-300,000, the highest amongst all lots. Opened at US$150,000, it was hammered down at US$95,000 (US$115,000 with premium) after 28 bids.

Another ‘Tobacco Leaf’ dinner service, a mottahedeh porcelain service, has an estimate of US$6,000-8,000. It was, however, hammered down at a surprisingly high price of US$750,000, 125 times of its estimate. With premium included, it was sold at US$910,000 to the same bidder of the original 'Tobacco Leaf' dinner service. 

The 'Tobacco Leaf' pattern is unique to export porcelain and is extremely popular in Western countries. To this day, there are still companies producing replicas of export porcelain. But why are the prices of the replicas almost on a par with those of the original ones? We will be discussing this next time.

Another star lot from this sale is a Chinese export ‘Rockefeller Pattern’ assembled dinner service from the Jiaqing Period. Its estimate price is US$10,000- US$15,000. Opening at US$10,000, it was hammered down at US$20,000, US$25,000 with premium.

This service includes 184 pieces and each piece has its own unique story patterns and Chinese scenes. The craftsmanship is extremely delicate with rich gilding. Although it was hammered down at above the estimate price, the bidding was not as intense as expected. The other lots that have lower estimates surpassed its price, pushing it out of the top 3 lots.

Top 3 Lots

The 'Marly Rouge' Service: A Sevres Porcelain Dessert Service Made for Napoleon I

Circa 1807-09

Lot no.: 118


  • Ordered for Napoleon 1er at the château de Compiègne but delivered to Fontainebleau, 11 October 1809.

  • Acquired by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

  • Bequest to Laurance S. Rockefeller, 1948.

  • Acquired from the Estate of Laurance S. Rockefeller, 11 July 2004.

Estimate: US$150,000- US$250,000

Hammered price: US$1,500,000

Price realised: US$1,812,500

A Large Chinese Export ‘Tobacco Leaf’ Assembled Dinner Service

Qianlong Period, Circa 1775

Lot no.: 139


  • With Arthur S. Vernay, London (part); acquired 1953.

  • With John D. Rockefeller, Jr., 1953-60 (part).

  • With Martha Baird Rockefeller, 1960-71 (part).

  • With Antique Porcelain Company (part).

  • With J. Rochelle Thomas, New York (part), acquired 1971.

  • Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964-78 (part).

  • Laurance Rockefeller, 1978-90 (part).

  • Acquired from Laurance Rockefeller, October 1990 (part).

Estimate: US$200,000- US$300,000

Hammered price: US$950,000

Price realised: US$1,152,000 


A Mottahedeh Porcelain ‘Tobacco Leaf’ Pattern Part Dinner Service

Lot no.: 140


  • The Lily and Edmond J. Safra Collection; Sotheby's, New York, 18-21 October 2011, lot 916 (all but six dinner plates).

Estimate: US$6,000- US$8,000

Hammered price: US$750,000

Price realised: US$912,000


Other Leading Lots

A Chinese Export ‘Rockefeller Pattern’ Assembled Dinner Service

Jiaqing Period, Circa 1805

Lot no.: 161


7 pieces, covers and stands:

  • Estate of Lucy Truman Aldrich, Providence, Rhode Island, acquired 1955.

20 pieces, covers and stands:

  • Acquired from Alexandre Popoff, Paris, July 1956.

58 pieces:

  • With J. Rochelle Thomas, London.

  • With John D. Rockefeller Jr., New York, 1927-60.

  • Estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr., acquired May 1963.

62 pieces:

  • With American Art Association, Brummer Gallery, New York.

  • With J.A. Lloyd Hyde, New York.

  • With John D. Rockefeller Jr., New York, 1932-60.

  • Estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr., acquired May 1963.

13 pieces:

  • Yamanaka, New York.

  • John D. Rockefeller Jr., New York.

  • Estate of John D. Rockefeller Jr., acquired May 1963.

8 pieces:

  • Acquired from Morton’s Auction and Exchange, New Orleans, February 1982, lots 925-29.

Estimate: US$100,000- 150,000

Hammered price: US$200,000

Price realised: US$250,000


Auction Summary

Auction House: Christie’s New York

Sale: The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: English & European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations, Part I

Sale date: 9/5/2018

Lots offered: 253

Sold by lots: 100%

Sale total: US$12,367,750