The most expensive pieces of antique furniture sold at auction

What makes for a really big hitter at auction?

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Whether you're spending £200 or £20m on a piece of antique furniture, the considerations are often the same. 

When it comes to antique furniture price is usually down to three main factors: quality, condition and rarity. Other factors can come into play as well such as age, provenance or fashion. When you’re trying to determine what the demand might be, it pays to keep all these matters in mind.

These considerations run all the way to the top of the market.

So what does it look like at the very peak?

Top of the list

The most expensive piece of furniture ever sold at auction is The Badminton Chest, a huge, lavishly decorated piece of Italian craftsmanship, which sold for a whopping £19m at Christie’s London in 2004. The monumental cabinet was commissioned by Henry Somerset, 3rd Duke of Beaufort in 1726. It took 30 Florentine experts six years to make, and it was named after the Duke’s house in Gloucestershire. Measuring 3.86m tall, it has scenes in pietra dura or inlaid stone and features a clock face at the top marked with fleurs-de-lis.

It remained in place until 1990 when it was auctioned off by the family for £8.58m. At that point it was the highest price ever made by a piece of furniture. However, it set a new record when it was sold again in 2004.

So: a one-off, intricately handcrafted piece of furniture left in place in a stately home for many years. That ticks of rarity, quality and condition. Add to that the ambition of the decorative programme, the sheer scale of the piece and its association with a major name, and its small surprise that it’s a record-setter.

It was bought by Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein and is currently on permanent display at the Garden Palace. 

Runners up

The next highest recorded price is for The Dragon’s Chair, which reflects the importance of provenance. Designed by Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray between 1917-19. In 1973 it was acquired by the French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. In 2009 it was part of the showstopping Christie’s auction in Paris which dispersed his estate. Despite being estimated at €2-3m, it sold for €21,905,000. The buyer, Cheska Vallois who dubbed the cost “the price of desire”.

Other top sellers include:

  • A Florentine pietra dura, ebony and ormolu cabinet which made £19m at Christie’s in December 2004
  • A Goddard and Townsend secretary desk made during the 1760s. One of only nine made, it sold at Christie’s in 1989 for $11.4m making it the most expensive piece of US furniture on record.
  • A set of four Huanghuali horseshoe-back armchairs, which sold at Christie’s New York for $9.7m in 2015. These were once owned by Quan Yi in 17th century China. In 2013, a Huanghuali plank-top pedestal table
  • The Fisher-Fox family Chippendale carved Mahogany tea table, which sold from Christie’s New York for $6.8m in 2007.

Are you hoping to furnish your home with antiques? If so, it pays to do a bit of research about anitem before placing a bid, even if you aren’t considering dropping £19m on a single purchase.

To learn more, visit our antique furniture buying guide, our guide to different types of auction.


Tags: Furniture
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