Vietnamese antiques fetch high prices at global auctions

By Hieu Nhan   November 4, 2021 | 09:30 pm GMT+7
A mandarin cap and a watch dating to the Nguyen Dynasty were sold for record-high prices at international auctions over the past few years.
A Vietnamese mandarin cap believed to be from the Nguyen Dynasty has sold for €600,000 ($693,243) at a Balclis auction in Spain on Oct. 28.   It comes with a box in lacquered and gilded wood, and has some flaws and defects, the auction house 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.  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.

A Vietnamese mandarin cap believed to be from the Nguyen Dynasty, the last of Vietnam's royal rulers, late 19th century-early 20th century, sold for €600,000 ($693,243) at a Balclis auction in Spain on Oct. 28. It comes with a box in lacquered and gilded wood, and has "some flaws and defects," the auction house stated. The item was introduced on Oct. 20 with an initial price of €500. Ten vying bidders eventually pushed the price tag up to €600,000. 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.
Vu Kim Loc, an artisan who specializes in restoring Nguyen Dynasty caps, 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 that caps belonging to high-ranking mandarins were even rarer. Photo courtesy of the Balclis auction house

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.

At another auction the same day, a ceremonial costume from the Nguyen dynasty was eventually sold for €35,000 after bidding started at €800. Son said Vietnamese artifacts have gained traction on the international auction scene over the past five years, thanks to affluent Vietnamese abroad helping to spread the word. Photo courtesy of the Balclis auction house

In May 2017, a Rolex Reference 6062 watch of Bao Dai, Vietnam’s last emperor, was sold at $5.05 million at an auction in Switzerland, the most expensive Rolex watch at that time.  He reportedly went shopping for the Rolex when he was in Geneva in the spring of 1954 to attend the Geneva Convention, which split Vietnam into two. The unique Rolex is a small 36mm yellow gold triple calendar moon phase and is the only known example with the reference 6062 with a black dial and diamond indexes, according to leading watch website Hodinkee.

In May 2017, a Rolex Reference 6062 watch of Bao Dai (1913-1997), Vietnam’s last emperor, was sold for $5.05 million at an auction in Switzerland, the most expensive Rolex at the time. He reportedly went shopping for the Rolex in the spring of 1954 while attending the Geneva Convention, which split Vietnam in two.
The unique Rolex includes a small 36 millimeter yellow gold triple calendar moon phase and is the only known example with the reference 6062 with a black dial and diamond indexes, according to leading watch website Hodinkee. Photo by Phillips

In April 2015, the rickshaw used by Queen Mother Tu Minh (1855-1906) was sold at €45,000 in France. It was purchased by the Monuments Conservation Center  in central Thue Thien Hue Province and is now displayed at Hue Royal Palace.   The rickshaw was bought by her son - King Thanh Thai (1879-1954) - for his mother to travel around in the palace. After King Thanh Thai was dethroned, it was sold to a Frenchman in 1907. After more than 100 years, it was auctioned in France.    Phan Thanh Hai, director of the Hue Monuments Conservation Center at that time, said that this rickshaw and its artistic value was among the most beautiful in Vietnam, and was exquisitely made with pearls by a group of famous artisans in the North. It also has a high historical value, reflecting a period of the last dynasty in Vietnam.

In April 2015, the rickshaw used by Queen Mother Tu Minh (1855-1906) was sold for €45,000 in France. It was purchased by Monuments Conservation Center in central Thue Thien Hue Province and is on display at Hue Royal Palace. The rickshaw was bought by her son - King Thanh Thai (1879-1954) - for his mother to travel around the palace. After the king was dethroned, it was sold to a Frenchman in 1907. After more than 100 years, it was auctioned in France.
Phan Thanh Hai, director of Hue Monuments Conservation Center at the time, said the rickshaw was among the most beautiful in Vietnam, exquisitely inlaid with pearls by a group of famous artisans in the North. Photo by Dac Duc

At the same auction, a royal bed of King Thanh Thai was sold at more than VND3 billion.   It was bought by an overseas Vietnamese, who is the grandson of the emperor.   The bed is made of wood with royal Hue patterns. The top of the bed is carved and covered with golden leaves.

At the same auction, a royal bed of King Thanh Thai was sold for more than VND3 billion.
It was bought by an overseas Vietnamese, a grandson of the emperor. The bed is made of wood with royal Hue patterns. The top of the bed is carved and covered with gold leaf. Photo courtesy of Rouillac

A book made of silver and gilded with gold was bought by Cao Xuan Truong, a Vietnamese antique collector in 2010. The history of this particular book dates all the way back to 1846 when the then Vietnamese King Thieu Tri generously gifted this very expensive book to his mistress. The book, which measures 14 x 23 cm in size, has only five sheets and almost 2 kg. It features 186 scripts in Chinese with reference to the concubine, costing Truong €72,750.  This is the only known gold and silver gilded book believed to be in existence in Vietnam’s history, according to the Vietnam History Museum.

A gilded book made of silver was bought by Cao Xuan Truong, a Vietnamese antique collector in 2010. The history of this particular book dates to 1846 when the then Vietnamese King Thieu Tri gifted this item to his mistress.
The book, which measures 14 x 23centimeters, has only five sheets and weighs nearly two kilograms. It features 186 scripts in Chinese with reference to the concubine, costing Truong €72,750. This is the only known gilded, silver book to have existed in Vietnamese history, according to Vietnam History Museum. Photo by Philippe Truong

 
 
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