Wonderful treasures can be found in the most unexpected places.
Case in point: A small porcelain bowl turned out to be a 15th-century Chinese artifact worth multiple times more than its set $35 price tag at a yard sale. How much are we talking about? Between $300,000 and $500,000, according to AP News.
The lovely piece, which will be up for bidding at Sotheby’s Auction of Important Chinese Art in New York on March 17, is “one of the only seven such bowls known to exist in the world.” Most of them are on display in museums across the globe—two at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, two at museums in London, and one at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.
In 2020, the undisclosed buyer purchased it for the initial asking price at a yard sale in New Haven, Connecticut. He later reached out to Sotheby’s to send them some information and photographs for evaluation. Straight away, the item caught the eyes of Angela McAteer and Hang Yin, the auction house’s experts on Chinese ceramics and art.
“It was immediately apparent to both of us that we were looking at something really very, very special,” McAteer, Sotheby’s senior vice president and head of its Chinese Works of Art Department, recalled. “The style of painting, the shape of the bowl, even just the color of the blue is quite characteristic of that early, early 15th century period of porcelain.”
They didn’t need scientific tests to verify its authenticity. Upon reviewing it in person, the specialists confirmed it indeed was from the 1400s era, “during the reign of the Yongle emperor, the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty." As stated in the report, Sotheby’s said it was made for the Yongle court, which “was known to have ushered in a new style to the porcelain kilns in the city of Jingdezhen, and the bowl is a quintessential Yongle product.”
“All the characteristics and hallmarks are there that identify it as a product of the early Ming period,” McAteer shared, referring to the lotus bud or chicken heart-shaped bowl decked out in cobalt blue paintings of flowers and other patterns. On the inside is a medallion and a quatrefoil motif surrounded by flowers.
To this day, no one knows how the bowl became part of the aforementioned garage sale. For McAteer, as per the article, it might have been passed down from generation to generation of a clan who had no idea of its true value.
“It’s always quite astounding to think that it kind of still happens, that these treasures can be discovered,” declared McAteer. “It’s always really exciting for us as specialists when something we didn’t even know existed here appears seemingly out of nowhere.”
Article thumbnails from Sotheby's Auction House's Instagram account