Modern Replica of Qianlong Export Service Sold for 125 Times its Estimate

Part 1 of ‘The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: English & European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations’ sale had successfully ended. The lot that has caused much debate is the ‘Tobacco Leaf’ service that was hammered down for 125 its estimate price. This ‘dark horse’ is in fact a modern replica of the original Qianlong export service, which was also in the sale. More surprisingly, the replica’s hammer price is almost on par with that of the original.

The original Chinese export ‘Tobacco Leaf’ assembled dinner service

This Qianlong period export ‘Tobacco Leaf’ assembled dinner service has the highest estimate in the sale - US$200,000-300,000. The bidding started at US$150,000, it was hammered down at US$950,000 (US$1.5 million with premium) after 28 bids.

Mottahedeh Porcelain ‘Tobacco Leaf’ Pattern Part Dinner Service

The other ‘Tobacco Leaf’ Service came next. Since this set is a replica from the ceramic reproduction company ‘Mottahedeh’, its estimate is only US$6,000-8,000. To many people’s surprise, the replica caused an even more intense bidding than the original. It was hammered down at US$750,000, US$910,000 with premium. The two sets were acquired by the same bidder.



The unique design of the Qianlong service

Although there is a US$200,000 difference between the two services, we cannot ignore the fact that the former is an antique from the Qing dynasty while the latter is a replica. If we were to compare the number of pieces in each service, the latter does have more. However, the pieces in the original are larger in size and the designs are more varied. What is the real reason behind this result?

Mottahedeh- Chinese export porcelain reproduction company

‘Mottahedeh’ is an American ceramic company founded over 100 years ago. It is known for its tableware and decorative accessories as well as its reproduction of Chinese porcelain. It has also gained much respect from large institutions and worked with many of them, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). This particular ‘Tobacco Leaf’ service replica is in fact a collaboration between the company and the Met.

The pricey replica

This service includes 45 dinner plates, 28 bowls, 25 tea cups and 33 coffee cups. We have roughly estimated the cost of purchasing a set from Mottahedeh with the same number of pieces and similar variety. It would make a total of around US$50,000, which is much higher compared to the estimated price of the service in the sale (US$6,000 - 8,000).

Style of tea cup available now (left) Style of tea cup from the sale (right)

Apart from that, the same styles of bowls, tea cups and coffee cups from the service are no longer being produced, which makes them even more valuable and the price more justifiable. However, does the original Qianlong ‘Tobacco Leaf’ Service deserve a higher hammered price? It’s for you to judge.


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


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