A very rare gold commemorative bracelet, $187,575
Bonhams New York
March 18, 2019
When asked if he has handled anything quite like this solid 18k gold bracelet, Bruce Maclaren, senior specialist of Chinese fine and decorative art at Bonhams had a ready answer. “No. That’s an easy question there,” he says, laughing. The bracelet appears to have been given to Ellen Wayles Randolph as a gift to make amends for her husband, Joseph Coolidge, having been briefly imprisoned by the Chinese during the first Opium War. The piece has no date, but we can deduce it was made and given between 1839 and 1841, when the couple was in China. The 14 Chinese merchants named in the inscription were active then as well.
There’s no proof that Randolph ever wore the bracelet, and its absurdly intricate filigree details might have helped preserve it. “There are so many things hanging off it, it’s daunting to wear,” Maclaren says. “Its impracticality as a piece of jewelry kept it in good condition.” Estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, the bracelet wildly overperformed at auction, partly for its craftsmanship and partly for its interesting provenance—Randolph was the favorite granddaughter of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson. Maclaren, who was at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) from 2000 to 2009, proudly reveals that the winning bidder will let the PEM reunite it with the silver covered trophy cup that Coolidge received for his troubles, and which was probably made by the same Chinese silversmith. The pair should go on display in the museum’s Asian export gallery later this year.