A rare find from the mantlepiece

A little chip nearly made Lady Sally Peel throw away two Chinese cups. Which led to a bidding war.
By Chloe Fox

Next time you decide to have a clear out, you would be wise to keep Lady Sally Peel’s story in the back of your mind.  

The year was 2018 and, in the aftermath of her husband’s death, she decided to downsize from the large country house they had shared to a smaller townhouse of her own, overlooking Salisbury Cathedral.  Right up until his death in 2005, at the age of 101, her husband was a remarkable man.  The most eminent obstetrician of his generation, Sir John Peel served as the Surgeon-Gynaecologist to Queen Elizabeth II from 1961-1973.  

‘He lived an extraordinary life’ says Lady Peel who, having known him all her life as she was a distant relation, became Sir John’s third wife in 1995.  ‘And lots of it was lived without me.’

For as long as she had known him, two small enamelled porcelain Chinese cups had sat on the mantelpiece of their home.  ‘I never knew where they had come from – a grateful patient, most probably’, Lady Peel recalls. ‘I just dusted them occasionally and thought what a shame it was that one of them had a chip.’ 

When the house sold very quickly, Lady Peel ended up with a small window of time in which to pack up, and almost threw the two little cups away due to the chip. When Matthew Lacey, senior valuer at The Auction Hub, saw them, he was quick to spot their potential value.

‘I knew, as soon as I saw them, that they were very rare pieces of Doucai porcelain’, he says.  Produced during the reign of  Emperor Yongzheng, the cups were produced as an aesthetic homage to pieces originally produced during the reign of Chengua, the ninth Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1464-87).  What is particularly remarkable about these extraordinarily delicate, hand painted pieces – whose most likely purpose would have been as ceremonial wine cups – is the reign mark on their underside, a six figure mark in Chinese script which bears accurate testimony to their date and origin.  

In a nail biting flurry of final activity, bids on the February Auction Hub auction came in from all around the world – UK, China, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Canada – and the cups nearly tripled their expected sale to reach a final hammer price of £11,640 (including fees).  ‘I was absolutely delighted with the result’ says Matthew Lacey.  ‘Not least because it illustrates exactly why the Auction Hub was set up – giving clients a boutique service that combines all the bespoke experience of traditional auctioneers with the power and global reach of the internet.’

‘I do so wish he had known’ says a delighted Lady Peel of the unknown treasures on her late husband’s mantelpiece.  ‘And I’m very glad I didn’t throw them away!’

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