They took it from a collector’s house in Hong Kong. The seller believed it to be a fake. What’s more: they split it in half.
The history of art and collecting is full of monumental errors. From the memorable attempt to restore the Ecce Homo de Borja (in the Spanish city of Zaragoza) by a pensioner to the episodes in which a piece of contemporary art ended up in a container after being mistaken for garbage, there are dozens of the number of works that, more or less consciously, have been crushed, sectioned, pulverized, stained, slightly damaged or irretrievably spoiled by someone who had them within reach.
This series of catastrophic misfortunes was joined this week by a last episode recorded in Hong Kong, where what could be one of the robberies of the century has been reduced to a historical botch. As it became known this week, the events took place last month, when a trio of thieves who seized a millionaire loot from a collector’s house sold the most precious work of all, a parchment with the supposed calligraphy of Mao Tse Tung valued by his owner at 252 million euros, for about 50 euros to another collector who thought the object was a mere fake.
As if that were not enough, at some point in the process someone considered that the 2.8 meters in length were too much to be exposed in one piece, so He did not hesitate to cut it in half to facilitate storage and display.
“It’s heartbreaking to see it split in two. It will definitely affect its value, although the final impact remains to be seen, ”its owner, a well-known local collector of stamps and revolutionary art named Fu Chunxiao, told the local newspaper. South China Morning Post.
The events date back to September 10. That day, the three thieves easily gained access to a 16-story residential building on Nathan Street, the main thoroughfare on the Kowloon Peninsula.
After forcing the iron fence and through the wooden door, they entered the apartment that Fu uses as a warehouse. In addition to sneaking away the valuable scroll with a poem written by the founding father of modern China, they also took another six calligraphy scrolls, ten coins and 24,327 Chinese postage stamps, among which is a rarity issued in 1968 under the slogan “The whole country is red.” All over the world, there are nine stamps from that edition, including one that was auctioned in 2018 for 1.7 million euros.
The collector, who is currently in mainland China, estimated that the total value of the stolen could reach 549 million euros, so this it would be the biggest blow in the history of the former British colony. However, the authorities are still confirming the exact value of what was stolen through different channels.
On September 22, after learning of the theft through the request for citizen collaboration issued by the police, it was the buyer of the stolen manuscript himself who went to the police station with both parts of it and told them that he had bought it for 54 euros thinking it was a copy.
Later, two of the missing coins were also found in his apartment. The 49-year-old man was detained and later released on bail as investigations continue into his involvement in the case. To date, officers have also arrested one of the alleged shoplifters, a 44-year-old man surnamed Ng, and a 47-year-old man who apparently helped the offender by providing him with a hiding place.
Meanwhile, the tasks continue to find the remaining pair of thieves, whom the taxi driver who stopped after the coup helped identify.
The unique case of Hong Kong has also served as a reminder that Mao, one of the most controversial figures of the tumultuous 20th century, was a master calligrapher of some level. Although most of his works remain in China, some have also gone abroad. In 2017, a collection of handwritten notes on literature that the Great Helmsman drew up in 1975, a year before he died, were auctioned for almost a million dollars in London. Also, an autograph letter he wrote towards the end of the Chinese civil war was sold last year for about 570,000 euros.
By Ismael Arana, Hong Kong correspondent for La Vanguardia