Underwhelming results for Sotheby's Chinese antiques sale | US$7.7 million valued Imperial jade sceptre unsold

Chinese antiques delivered underwhelming results in Sotheby’s Hong Kong Important Chinese Art including Imperial Jades from the De An Tang Collection Sales last week.

The lots over HK$10 million dollars estimate in this article underperformed, with three unsold and one withdrawn. Amongst the unsold antiques was the sale’s top lot – a jade ruyi sceptre from Qing dynasty (1644-1911). It was estimated at HK$60 million (around US$7.7 million) dollars.

A 18th century ‘peach’ box was the most expensive lot during the sale. It was hammered at HK$28.5 million dollars – below its estimate of HK$35 million dollars.

Charles Ho Tsu-kwok is the owner of the De An Tang Collection. He is a tycoon from Hong Kong – best known for his leadership roles in the media and tobacco industries. 

De An Tang Collection

Qing Imperial Inscribed White Jade Ruyi Sceptre

Mark and period of Qianlong Emperor (reign 1735-1796), dated to the Chinese renchen year, corresponding to 1772
Length: 39.7 cm

  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 1 November 1999, Lot 561
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 10 April 2006, Lot 1510 (unsold)


  • A Romance with Jade: From the De An Tang Collection, Yongshou Palace, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2004, Cat. No. 19

Estimate: HK$60,000,000 – 100,000,000 (around US$7.7-12.8 million)


Hong Kong tycoon, Charles Ho Tsu-kwok

Charles Ho Tsu-kwok is the former chairman of Hong Kong media company, Sing Tao News Corporation. 

This newspaper tycoon also inherited the tobacco empire of his grandfather, Ho Ying-chie. Ho's grandfather founded the Hong Kong Tobacco Company in the 1950s. He was once the general agent of Marlboro cigarettes and a manufacturer of Liangyou Chinese cigarettes. During his peak years, he dominated the business of Hong Kong's tobacco industry. 

Ho Ying-chie handed his tobacco company to his eldest grandson, Charles Ho Tsu-kwok in 1997. It is reported that the assets of this tobacco kingdom amounted to HK$20 billion (around US$2.5 billion) dollars at the time.

This sceptre appeared in Sotheby's Hong Kong auction twice previously. The first time was in 1991, when Ho Tsu-kwok bought it; and then in 2006, estimated at approximately HK$20 million (around US$2.5 million) dollars at the time. It was not sold in the end.

This sceptre appeared at Sotheby's Hong Kong for the third time this year. But it was unsold for the second time.

Enamelled and famille-rose ‘peach’ box and cover

Mark and period of Yongzheng Emperor (1722-1735)
Diameter: 19.2 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Collection of Frederick J. and Antoinette H. Van Slyke
  • Sotheby's New York, 31st May 1989, Lot 211
  • The Meiyintang Collection
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7th April 2013, Lot 3036 (Sold at HK$43.8 million, around US$5.6 million)

Estimate: HK$35,000,000 – 45,000,000 (around US$4.5-5.7 million)

Hammer Price: HK$28,500,000

Sold: HK$34,660,000 (around US$4.4 million)

The auctioneer started the auction around half of its estimate. After receiving nine bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$28.5 million dollars – HK$6.5 million dollars below its estimate. This antique was sold at HK$34.6 million (around US$4.4 million) dollars with buyer’s premium.

This ‘peach’ box was part of the famous Meiyintang Collection. The collection’s owners are the Zuellig brothers – Stephen (1917-2017) and Gilbert (1918-2009). Together, the two siblings operate a multi-billion-dollar Swiss family business called Zuellig Pharma – selling products to Asia for European and American pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer and Bayer.

It is believed that the name Meiyintang is a homophony of the Zuellig brothers’ Swiss hometown of Meienberg. In Chinese, Meiyintang means Hall among Rose Beds.

In Chinese culture, peaches have been a sign of auspiciousness and longevity.

The Yongzheng Emperor (reigned 1723-35), fourth son of Kangxi Emperor, conspired against his brothers. His legitimacy of succession to the Chinese throne was frequently questioned, due to widespread rumours that he seized power. Yongzheng was therefore very receptive to auspicious symbols – especially the peach – bringing good fortune to him.

This Chinese porcelain’s glaze colours derived from the influence of European art. This type of famille rose and peach porcelain is a masterpiece – combining Chinese and Western art during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Unsold and withdrawn lots: 

Imperial green jade seal 'Wufu wudai tang Guxi tianzi bao' seal

Created in Qianlong period (1735-1796)
Width: 13.1 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Collection of a United States Brigadier General, who held various senior-level positions across Europe before, during, and immediately after Second World War, and thence by descent to his grandson resided in the state of Washington
  • Sotheby's New York, 19th March 2013, Lot 402 (Sold at US$3.4 million)

Estimate: HK$25,000,000 – 35,000,000


White Jade ‘Lotus’ Fluted Teapot and Cover

Created in Qianlong period (1735-1796)
Overall Height: 13 cm, Length: 16 cm

  • A French private collection, acquired in France in the 1920s, and thence by descent
  • Sotheby's Paris, 11th December 2014, Lot 49

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 – 30,000,000 


Embroidered Satin and Pearlwork 'Twelve Symbol' Imperial Court Robe (Jifu) 

Created in Qianlong period (1735-1796) 

Length: 145cm 

Esimate: HK$15,000,000 – 20,000,000 


Underwhelming Results – Why? 

During Sotheby's Hong Kong autumn auctions in early October, they were hit with two rounds of tropical cyclones. Three important sales, including the Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sales, and the Imperial Jades from the De An Tang Collection Sales, were all hit by Typhoon Signal No. 8.

During the pandemic situation, the auction house has provided collectors with more high-definition photos and detailed status reports. But it never completely replaced the need to personally inspect the high-priced top antiques' authenticity and condition. Collectors may hesitate or have little interest in bidding. 

Auction Summary:

Auction House: Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Sale: Important Chinese Art including Imperial Jades from the De An Tang Collection

Date: 13 October 2021

Number of lots: 93 

Sold: 44 

Unsold: 49 

Sale Rate: 47% 

Sale Total: HK$185,769,600 (around US$23.8 million)