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In July last year Halls sold this large Qing blue and white bottle vase with a Yongzheng (1723-35) mark for £150,000, despite damage to the rim.

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A similar shake-up took place last year in the elusive quest to find the winning formula, in that case centred on six major seasonal sales offering high-quality items alongside more frequent interiors and specialist sales.

For 2018, the model will be one large collectors’ sale on the first Wednesday of every month, as well as a monthly specialist sale – or ‘themed event’, as Halls head of fine art Jeremy Lamond terms it.

“Rather than what we had last year – the fortnightly interiors sale that could be 300-400 lots, which was nothing to be sniffed at – we now are taking the quality up,” he said.

The aim is to make every sale, collective or specialist, into an ‘event’, with a “minimum lot value of £80”.

Quality events

Lamond’s focus is on a “quality event where the things on offer will always be of a certain standard, whether an uncatalogued sale or a themed event, because the aim is to make sure every lot is viable and worth travelling for”.

As for the Asian art sales, while it is a market in which an initial ‘Wild East’ boom settled down somewhat amid concerns such as auction houses not being paid by successful bidders, recent results at Halls have been very encouraging.

For example, in November, a rare Chinese ‘Empress’ vase sold for £50,000. The pearshaped vase, probably Daoguang, belonged to the same Southport owner who sold a rare Chinese vase for £150,000 with Halls in July.

Asian art has recently been included in more general Halls auctions but the saleroom will now revive stand-alone sales, with two a year (April 25 and November 28) under the direction of Asian art department head Alexander Clement, formerly of Phillips and Bonhams Chester, who joined Halls in 2015.

“It seems appropriate that those very good results we have had are reflected in a standalone catalogue, in the belief we will encourage collections if we are seen to be having an event purely for Asian art in this area,” said Lamond.

State of the market

As for the market, he added: “I think it has matured, and the speculators have moved out of it. That has made it somewhat more stable. We are finding that generally the buyers are paying up.

“I think there has been a shakedown in a lot of early speculators in the market from when China began to start realising its wealth from about 2005 onwards, and a lot of people were buying Chinese art almost if it just said ‘Chinese’ in the description.”

Lamond feels the market has cooled off at the lower to middle end. “People are being more selective but what we have found is they are still paying proper money for the very best things.”

In December another new venture for Halls kicked off in the form of selling exhibitions of art at the Shrewsbury showroom and this carries on in 2018, with the next on July 16.