A Chinese Imperial Robe Found in a Cardboard Box Could Fetch $60,000 at Auction

The precious garment was rediscovered by the aristocratic Villier family.

Image courtesy of Dreweatts.

A rare Imperial robe worn by the Emperor of China is coming to auction in May. The “twelve symbol” blue silk dragon robe dates to the early 19th century and would have been worn by the Chinese Emperor twice a year for festivals at the Temple of Heaven outside the Forbidden City in Beijing.

The rare robe was found packed away in a cardboard box for more than 100 years, and comes to Dreweatts auction house from the aristocratic Villier family. Eric Hyde Villiers—the grandson of the 4th Earl of Clarendon—purchased the robe in China in 1913 as a gift for his father, Sir Francis Hyde Villiers.

The robe was only recently rediscovered in a cardboard box inside an unopened drawer. The Villier family have royal links dating back to the 17th century, with Barbara Villiers being a mistress of King Charles I who bore him five children.

The festivals of the Temple of Heaven would involve the Chinese Emperor leading a procession of musicians, noblemen, elephants, and chariots to the temple twice a year, where sacrifices would be offered to the Gods of Heaven, the sun, moon, stars, wind, rain, and thunder, in the hope of a bountiful harvest. The temple was built in the early 15th century and became a World Heritage Site in 1998.

Image courtesy of Dreweatts.

Photo courtesy of Dreweatts.

The blue silk Imperial robe, designed specifically for the emperor, is decorated with 12 astronomical, meteorological, and animal symbols. It is woven with gold threads and features nine Imperial five-clawed dragons clasping pearls of wisdom. The mythical beasts were a popular symbol associated with Chinese emperors and the Imperial family.

The garment’s storage has kept it in impeccable condition, preserving its original colors and adding to its estimated value at auction. The box was stamped by the royally-appointed tailors and outfitters Billings and Edmonds, with an address on London’s Hanover Square.

The robe will be going under the hammer as part of Dreweatts’ upcoming Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale on May 21, and is estimated to fetch between £30,000 and £50,000 ($38,000 and $63,000).

Mark Newstead, Dreweatts’ Specialist Consultant for Asian Ceramics and Works of Art, said of the extraordinary object: “We are delighted to be offering for sale this important Emperor’s Imperial twelve symbol dragon robe, which has been left largely untouched for over 100 years, retaining its original color and condition. It had been forgotten about by the family and was recently found in a tailor’s box at the back of a drawer. It is particularly auspicious to be selling it in the lunar year of the dragon.”

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