Bonhams breaks world record yet again in Part III of the Edward Wrangham collection of Japanese works of art

Inro by Shibata Zeshin sells for £301,250

The Edward Wrangham Collection of Japanese Art
Part III
15 May 2012
London, New Bond Street

The world record for inro (traditional Japanese medicine cases consisting of nested boxes) sold at auction has been broken yet again by Bonhams in the third part of the Edward Wrangham sale that took place on the 15th May. With a sale total of £1.7 million, 82% sold by lot and 93% by value, one of the most important private collections of Japanese works of art has realised £5.4 million across the three sales so far held to date at Bonhams at New Bond Street.

Considered one of Europe's most important and comprehensive private collections of Japanese gentleman's accessories, it was formed by the late environmentalist, mountaineer, scholar and collector Edward Wrangham OBE.

The top lot of the sale, and now a world record price for the artist sold at auction, was a single case inro by the master lacquerer of the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Shibata Zeshin. It sold for £301, 250, exceeding the pre-sale estimates of £20,000 – 30,000 by over ten times. In a sale with very competitive bidding, when this lot hit £150,000, a private client on the telephone increased the bid by £100,000, to secure the much coveted inro. This was the third time that Bonhams has broken the record for works by Shibata Zeshin at auction.

Colin Sheaf, Chairman, United Kingdom and Asia, commented "Once again, the powerful attraction of an exceptional private collection, presented in a well researched and superbly illustrated catalogue, generated very high auction bidding from American, European and Japanese museum and private buyers. Even at times of economic uncertainty in the wider financial markets, a coterie of established and financially secure buyers continue to dominate a sophisticated sector of the global art market."

Top prices were also realised for inro by other artists including a stunning 19th century lacquer four-case inro by Koma Kansai after a design by Sakai Hoitsu. The inro depicts two crows perched on the snow-covered twisted trunk of a pine, and it realised £85,250 against a pre-sale estimate of £20,000 – 25,000. In Japan, the crow is considered an auspicious bird and is often depicted by artists.

Many clients were prepared to secure pieces from this collection, reflected in the final prices realised, at bids which often far exceeded the presale estimates. An 18th century black lacquer three-case inro by Ogawa Haritsu, inlaid with a flaming drum, sold for £56,650 (est. £8,000 – 10,000) and a rare, brown lacquer ink-cake three-case inro by Kengen, from the school of Ogawa Haritsu, sold for £46,850 (est. £7,000 – 8,000).

Further highlights of the sale included an inlaid brown lacquer two-case inro by Jika Ganbun that sold for £44,450 (est. £3,000 – 5,000), an unusual gold lacquer four-case by Mototada that sold for £39,650 (est. £10,000 – 15,000) and a rare brown lacquer three-case inro by Yamada Jokasai sold for £32,450 (est. £4,000 – 4,500).


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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