Centuries old banknote discovered inside auction sculpture

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 8th December, 2016

A rare 700-year-old banknote discovered by Mossgreen specialists inside an ancient Chinese sculpture will be a major drawcard to the auction house’s sale of The Raphy Star Collection of Important Asian Art from 6.30pm Sunday December 11 at 36-40 Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney.

The banknote was found inside the head of the large wooden sculpture Luohan – a Chinese word for a ‘perfected person’ or one who has reached Enlightenment.

Stamped with three official red seals, the banknote is inscribed with a sinister warning for any would be forger – “Authorised by the Department of Finance, this banknote has the same function as coins. Those who use counterfeit banknotes will be beheaded, the whistle-blower will be rewarded 250 Liang silvers plus all the properties of the criminal. Hong Wu period, Ming Dynasty.”

Mosssgreen’s Asian art head Ray Tregaskis said the discovery was thrilling.

“While it was not unusual for consecration items such as semi-precious stones or scrolls to be left within the base or on the back of a sculpture, the discovery of this banknote is rare and exciting – and importantly it verifies the date of the sculpture,” he said.

Featuring rare sculptures including one of the earliest examples of an Indian Buddhist, at an estimated value of $3-$5 million the collection is the most valuable and significant of its kind ever to be offered for auction in Australia.

The refined aesthetic beauty of Asian, particularly Buddhist, art inspired Star, who travelled the world to fulfil his collecting addiction of more than 30 years.

His collection follows Buddha’s footsteps and spans Asia’s breadth – from China to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Nepal and Tibet.

A major auction highlight is an exquisite 9th to 10th century bronze parcel gilt standing figure of Tara standing in the traditional ‘Tribhanga’ pose upon a round, lotus pedestal and wearing a transparent robe and three-leaf crown.

Another significant piece is a 2nd to 3rd century AC Kushan Period large pink sandstone head of Buddha from the Mathuran District – representing one of the earliest examples of Buddhist sculpture.

Other worthwhile examples include a rare 11th century Chinese polychrome wood sculpture of a Bodhisattva from the Song Dynasty, seated in the lotus position, and a large 11th century Khmer sandstone sculpture of the four-armed deity Vishnu in the Baphuon style.

A rare 10th to 11th century bronze standing figure of Avalokitesvara is another collector attraction.

Mossgreen will follow its Sunday auction with the sale of a collection of Chinese Works of Art & Ceramics (Part II) – including bamboo and wood carvings from early Qing Dynasty, bronze seals, small jades and other rare and unusual pieces – from 6.30pm the next day at the same venue. 

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