Chinese Rhinoceros Horn Cups, ca. 1700

Value (2011) | $1,000,000 Auction$1,500,000 Auction
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GUEST:
Well, I started collecting rhinoceros horn carvings back in the early '70s. The first one I bought was this one, which was in an antique store in Bath, England, and it kind of grew on me and I wanted the others. So through some of the auction houses and antique dealers and private individuals, I acquired the rest of them. At the time I bought them, they were affordable. In the '70s, early '80s.

APPRAISER:
Okay. But what drew you to these?

GUEST:
It's just something that you have to feel, I think, rather than describe.

APPRAISER:
Absolutely. All these rhinoceros horn libation cups were made for kind of ceremonial presentation purposes.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
And all of these were made in the late 17th through the early part of the 18th century. This cup here is in the shape of a magnolia blossom. And you have this dragon kind of peering over the edge, and then there's several dragons clamoring up the side, up this branch. And this beautifully fluted foot that flares out at the base. And it's got the wonderful band of detailed carving around the center section. And I love this one. It almost looks like a... the edge of a pie, doesn't it?

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
You've got this kind of crimped rim on these funny little short feet. This one over here is in the form of a vessel we call a jouet, which is an archaic bronze form from over 1,000 B.C. that was made as a ritual wine vessel. And then this one, all these figures of the immortals ranging around the side, wonderful detail. You can actually see their facial features.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
And it's just really terrific. This one up here is in the form of a lotus, and you've got the very naturalistic shape of the stem, and you've got the open leaf which forms a cup. Now, many of these probably originally had stands. The stand that remains is on this one, which actually most likely is a 19th-century stand, it's not an earlier stand. It's carved hardwood, it's not rhinoceros horn, but it complements very much the lotus form. So if these had stands, you would expect them to complement the form and the subject matter that is present in the cup itself. So each one of these says something to me and I know it says something to you, doesn't it?

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
Now, tell us how much you paid for each of these.

GUEST:
Well, this one that I bought in England was $500, and that took almost all the money I had with me to buy that one. So it was kind of a cheap trip the rest of the time I was there. This one I had to put two credit cards and some cash together to buy it. It was $3,000. Now, this one here I bought from the auction house on the phone through the catalog, and it was $800. And this one and this one I pretty much traded and some cash to a good friend of mine in Dallas, Texas, probably $1,000 to $1,500 materials and cash for the pair.

APPRAISER:
So we're looking at a total expenditure of about $5,000?

GUEST:
Yeah.

APPRAISER:
Do you have some ideas about what you think the values are?

GUEST:
No, some of the auction results are, I mean, astronomical.

APPRAISER:
Pretty high. Now, there are any number of conventions and laws and regulations governing the sale of rhinoceros horn because they're an endangered species. Now, that doesn't apply to things that were created hundreds of years ago.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
Although in many cases you have to have the right kind of paperwork if you're going to transport even those that are old across borders. One of the exciting things about the Asian art export and the Chinese art export right now is the market is very strong, and it's strong because there are so many people in China trying to buy back things that mean something to them. And there are relatively few items. That results in higher prices. So we have a pretty volatile market. Even so, I have a pretty good idea of what I think these would sell for. I believe that a conservative number would be between $1 million and $1.5 million for this group.

GUEST:
Serious?

APPRAISER:
I'm serious.

GUEST:
Whoa. Well, I won't have to depend on just Social Security, I guess. (laughs)

APPRAISER:
Do you think that changes things a little?

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
You pursued something you love. You weren't worried about the money. That was the last thing...

GUEST:
I'd rather collect something like this than eat. Serious?

APPRAISER:
I'm serious as I can be.

GUEST:
I need an inhaler and I don't even have asthma. (laughter) I knew it would be good, but I didn't know it would be that good.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Lark Mason Associates
New York, NY
Appraised value (2011)
$1,000,000 Auction$1,500,000 Auction
Event
Tulsa, OK (July 23, 2011)
Form
Container, Cup
Material
Horn

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