12 Jul 2017

Chinese jade vessels recovered and sold at auction for 10 times their estimate

Four valuable Chinese jade miniature vessels that were stolen in 2005 have been recovered by the Art Loss Register, and successfully sold at Woolley & Wallis on behalf of the insurer.

PRESS RELEASE, JULY 2017

Four Chinese vessels were stolen in the UK in 2005 by Michael Openshaw. At the time of the theft, Openshaw and fellow thief Robert Barrett had recently served time in prison for similar crimes which were described by the Judge during sentencing as “despicable”. The men targeted elderly art-owners, pestering them, gaining their trust, then taking pieces from their houses and leaving behind a cash ‘payment’ of a fraction of the price. 

The elderly victim in this case was tricked by Openshaw in 2005 to let him into her house where he removed four jade items from a cabinet. This and other losses were reported to Worthing Police. The police investigated the matter at the time but were unable to locate the items so the losses were reported to her insurer. The insurer promptly paid out on the claim.

In November 2016, the Art Loss Register identified that items being offered for sale at auction were a match for the stolen jade pieces registered on their database and informed the auctioneer. As a result, the auctioneer decided to withdraw the pieces from sale pending further investigation. It was apparent from the ALR’s records that the pieces offered for sale, which all came from the same consignor, were visually identical to those that had been stolen.

The ALR also informed Worthing Police of the matter and provided details of the loss of the pieces and their reappearance. The Police reopened their investigation and although no arrests were subsequently made, they did determine that rightful ownership of the jade vessels vested in the insurer. The ALR then arranged for the sale of the jade vessels at Woolley & Wallis in one of their specialist Asian Art sales. On 16 May 2017, the items were sold for a combined total of £75,000, more than ten times their estimate.

     

Two other jade vessels that have now been recovered and sold

James Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries & General Counsel at the Art Loss Register, commented that “This was a fantastic result for our insurer client, who saw a significant return many years after originally paying out on the claim. It was also a clear indicator of the value of specialist sales such as this one at Woolley & Wallis, and the benefit that they offer to consignors.”

Clive Stewart-Lockhart, Managing Director at Woolley & Wallis, said: “We were thrilled with the result and, as long time users of the ALR, understand the added value that having our catalogues checked has.  If we had sold these pieces without checking, it would have created huge problems going forward.”