$22M For Chinese Seal From 18th Century Sets New World Record

A bidder paid $22 million for a Chinese seal from the 18th century at an auction in France’s capital city, Paris, on Wednesday.

The seal, which belonged to Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, sold for over 20 times its estimated value. The sale was carried out by French auction house Drouot.

The stamp, which is white and beige-red in color, features a design of nine dragons coiled together in the clouds. The dragons are said to be chasing a sacred pearl. The design is said to symbolize immortality, imperial authority, and masculine power, according to AFP. The imperial seal is reportedly made of a soft rock known as steatite.


The $22 million paid for the Chinese seal beat the previous record of over $17 million paid for a white jade seal in France about five years ago. The white jade seal, which also featured coiled dragons, was owned by Emperor Qianlong. Just like the sale in 2011, the Chinese buyer of the $22 million imperial seal has chosen to keep his/her identity a secret.

The unidentified buyer scooped up the 18th-century seal after an intense bidding session, which reportedly lasted for several minutes.

The $22 million Chinese seal was valued high for several reasons. It belonged to the longest-serving ruler in the history of China. Emperor Qianlong, who died at the age of 87 after officially retiring from his royal role, had a deep-rooted interest in literature and art.

Emperor Qianlong's seal
A seal created to mark Emperor Qianlong’s abdication. [Image by Kin Cheung/AP Photo]

According to Drouot, Emperor Qianlong owned over 1,800 Imperial stamps. Currently, about 1,000 of them are housed at the Museum of the Forbidden City in Beijing. However, hundreds of them remain missing. While he used his seals to sign his works, Emperor Qianlong is said to have ordered some imperial stamps for their artistic appeal.

The French auction house which sold the $22 million Chinese seal revealed that it was acquired late in the 19th century by a French navy doctor who traveled to China. The antique stamp has reportedly remained in the possession of his family until now.

In recent years, more buyers have shown interest in acquiring Chinese relics. This has led authorities to enact a law against the sale of illegally obtained artifacts. Earlier this year, China’s State Administration of Cultural Relics announced a ban on the sale of all cultural artifacts obtained illegally before 1949 China Daily reported. The directive also calls for authorities to be given special priority when vying to purchase stolen artifacts on auction.

Chinese relics
Ancient artifacts on display in China. [Image by China Photos/Getty Images]

The $22 million Chinese seal is not the first item owned by Emperor Qianlong to go on sale this year. Earlier this month, two paintings owned by the leader of the Qing dynasty sold for about $4.9 and $3.6 million respectively at an auction in Hong Kong. The paintings are part of some 11,000 artworks that belonged to Emperor Qianlong.

Last month, Emperor Qianlong’s gun also fetched about $2.5 million at an auction in London. The musket, which was auctioned by Sotheby’s London, was reportedly purchased by an unnamed private collector from Asia. The gun is believed to have been the first musket from China with an imperial seal to be put on auction.

Besides the $22 million Chinese seal, Drouot was also auctioning two painting by top Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, AFP reported.

While Emperor Qianlong is celebrated as one of the longest-serving leaders in the history of China and a man with a refined taste, some critics claim he is partly to blame for the fall of the Qing dynasty. Emperor Qianlong’s decision to isolate the West meant that China was not ready militarily when it faced Europe and Japan in later years, according to China Highlights.

With that said, would you pay $22 million for this Chinese seal?

[Featured Image by Jeff Roberson/AP Photo]