Eskenazi, Godfather of Chinese Antiques, Sees a 4,280-fold Increase in the Value of First Piece He Bought

Giuseppe Eskenazi has been regarded as one of the world’s most esteemed dealers of Chinese Art. Highly respected by collectors and connoisseurs, Eskenazi is dubbed ‘the Godfather of Chinese Antiques’.

During his stay for the spring sales in Hong Kong, The Value had the privilege to have an enjoyable interview with the prominent figure on almost everything. In the interview, Mr. Eskenazi shared with us the first antiques piece he bought, which is coincidentally going up for auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong this spring. He bought the treasure for £350 and its value has now soared to HK$24m. Re-encountering his ‘old friend’ after more than half a century, Mr. Eskenazi talked about his thrill when he first saw the piece. 

Q: Do you remember the very first piece that you bought?

Eskenazi: By accident, Sotheby’s is now selling the first piece that I ever bought, in the 1960s. It was a very large Qianlong jade vase, which is the one here (on the catalogue).

Q: How much was it back then?

Eskenazi: I bought this in the 1960s in London for £350, which is, by today standard, a joke. I brought it to Milan to the gallery for them to sell. I thought I did something very good. They looked at it and said ‘Sorry, we cannot sell it. Take it back.’ I didn’t know who to take it back to or sell it to.

Q: Then what happened? What did you do?

Eskenazi: I took it back to England and I managed to sell it to a famous dealer called Spink. I sold it to the 300-year-old company for a profit. And that started the ball rolling. I paid £350 for the vase, which is today estimated at almost HK$25m. So you can see the increase that has happened in my lifetime.

(Note: £350 approximately equals to HK$5,600. The jade vase now carries a high estimate of HK$24m, a 4,280-fold increase in its value.)

Q: How did you feel when you first saw this jade vase?

Eskenazi: First of all, jade is something unique to China. We had no training in Europe for jade. It's something entirely Chinese. I just thought it was very beautiful. It had different colour and different tones. The carving was very interesting.

Eskenazi (continues): Of course, now everybody thinks how great it is. But at that time, they thought maybe it is a boring vase. And I was just very excited by it.

The present vase is an archaistic Jade vase treasured by the Qianlong Emperor, one of the few historical emperors obsessed with jades. Qianlong-era jades can be divided into jades in period styles (shizuo yu) and archaistic jades (fanggu yu). The present pair of Khotan-green jade vase shows the Qianlong Emperor's appreciation of and taste for archaistic jades. The prototype of the jade vase was in the form of a Han-dynasty bronze vase with aquatic creatures.

The vase is deftly carved in low relief around the body with two horizontal bands each enclosing water fowls and creatures arranged in double registers, including birds, water snakes, fish and tortoise. The base lightly incised with a four-character mark reading Qianlong fanggu.

There’s more to come for our interview with Mr. Eskenazi, who also spoke to us on a number of topics ranging from his beloved football team to his favourite food, from his passion for Chinese art to a reflection on regret in his life. Please stay tuned for the second part of the interview.

An Imperial, Highly Important and Magnificent Khotan-Green Jade Archaistic Vase
Fanggu Mark and Period of Qianlong

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Important Chinese Art
Date: 2018/4/3|2pm

Lot no.: 3638
Size: 41.5 cm

  • Eskenazi Ltd, London and Milan, c.1960-1961.
  • Spink & Son Ltd, London.
  • Sotheby’s London, 21st November 1961, lot 164 (frontpiece illustration), where It's noted it was acquired by Marshall.
  • Christie’s London, 16th December 1987, lot 472.
  • Spink & Son Ltd, London, 1989.
  • Collection of Somerset de Chair (1911-1995).
  • Bonhams Hong Kong, 27th November 2014, lot 13.

Estimate: HK$18,000,000 - 24,000,000