The Stem Cup, which dates back to the early 15th Century  sold for $5.3 million by Freeman's and Lyon & Turnbull at their debut auction in Hong Kong on May 31. The Stem Cup was the star lot of a specially curated sale of Chinese Works of Art that the sister auction houses co-produced.

Lee Young, Head of Asian Art at Lyon & Turnbull said “The Ming Xuande (1426-35) mark and period blue and white Stem Cup is a rare masterpiece and is virtually unseen outside museum collections.  This is a great result, bringing the sale to Hong Kong has proved to be the right decision for both Lyon & Turnbull and our partner Freeman’s and we are thrilled that the University now have funds to properly carry out the wishes of Ernest Thornhill.”

The Stem Cup was the most valuable of 270 items bequeathed to the Staffordshire University by Mr Ernest Thornhill on his death in 1944, having originally been sent there during wartime to safeguard the collection. Upon rediscovering the collection, which has been hidden away in storage for a significant number of years, the University appointed Lyon & Turnbull to sell the Stem Cup so that it can raise funds to build a permanent secure new home for the remainder of the collection at its Stoke-on-Trent campus. This resource centre will enable students to access the collection for their study, complying with the original bequest and wishes of Mr Thornhill.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University, Rosy Crehan said: "This is a fabulous result for the University of Staffordshire, it will allow us to care for and display the Thornhill Collection for future generations to enjoy. The funds raised will allow the remaining pieces of Chinese Oriental Ceramics to be curated, conserved and enjoyed in a new Ceramic Education and Research Facility. This is something Ernest Thornhill always hoped for and I am pleased that we will now be able to make his dream come true. ” 

Ernest Thornhill was a pharmacist from London who collected Oriental ceramics. He donated several pieces to the British Museum as well as the then North Staffordshire Technical College, which later became Staffordshire University in 1992.

The journey began at Asian Art in London in November 2015 when the Stem Cup was publically exhibited in the UK for the first time in 20 years. Its exhibition at Asia Week New York America in March 2016 and then during Asia Week Hong Kong in May 2016 ahead of the sale, provided an international platform for this important piece that spread the story of the Thornhill Collection around the world.

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