Nguyen Dynasty artifact fetches $693,000 at Spanish auction

By Ha Thu   October 31, 2021 | 05:05 am PT
Nguyen Dynasty artifact fetches $693,000 at Spanish auction
A Vietnamese mandarin cap believed to be from the Nguyen Dynasty has sold for €600,000 ($693,243) at a Balclis auction in Spain. Photo courtesy of the Balclis auction house
A Vietnamese Mandarin cap said to be from the Nguyen Dynasty has sold for €600,000 ($693,243) at a Balclis auction in Spain.

The auction was held both online and on-site on Thursday. On the website of the Balclis auction house, the cap was simply described as "Vietnamese Mandarin cap from the Nguyen Dynasty, late 19th century-early 20th century."

It comes with a box in lacquered and gilded wood, and has "some flaws and defects," the website said.

The item was introduced on October 20 with an initial price of €500. The €600,000 price tag was reached after over 10 bidders tried to get their hands on the item. The final bidder is an anonymous online collector.

Tran Dinh Son, a researcher, said the cap belonged to a high-ranking mandarin, was well preserved and similar to artifacts on display in Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, meaning it was not all that rare. Before 1945, several families either buried the caps with the deceased mandarins or kept them for worship.

"I'm surprised to hear that the cap got a record-breaking price. In Vietnam, a similar item could be sold for around $10,000," he said, adding that it was a shame that the cap couldn't be traced back to its owner, as such information would increase its cultural value.

Vu Kim Loc, an artisan who specializes in restoring caps from the Nguyen Dynasty, said he was not surprised to see the cap fetching a high price at a foreign auction. He said there were only around five to seven similar mandarin caps in Vietnam, and caps belonging to high-ranking mandarins were even rarer.

"Besides, I believe the credibility of the auction house is also very important to gain the trust of customers. If they put up fake items, it would only hurt their reputation."

At another auction the same day, a ceremonial costume from the Nguyen Dynasty started at €800 and was sold for €35,000.

Son said Vietnamese artifacts have begun to gain traction on the international auction scene over the past five years, thanks to affluent Vietnamese abroad helping to spread the word.

Historian Duong Trung Quoc said the fact that Vietnamese artifacts are highly sought overseas is a testament to Vietnam's culture and history. However, he said it also means that Vietnamese artifacts were "being lost" and found abroad, a problem that has not been addressed yet.

"Due to wars and natural disasters, many valuable artifacts fell into the hands of Western collectors, and those found inside Vietnam are few. I think the government should begin an investigation into artifacts in countries like the U.S., France and Spain, and try to claim them back either through diplomatic or legal means. Artifacts are not only of monetary value; more importantly, they hold cultural values," he said.

In July, a sword from Emperor Thanh Thai was auctioned in the U.S. at a starting price of $5,000. In 2001, eBay auctioned artifacts found in a shipwreck near the Cham Islands in central Vietnam.

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