Insight & Analysis

Cash in the attic

Published: Mar 2021

An exceptionally rare 15th-century Chinese antique that wound up at a yard sale has sold for US$721,800 at auction by Sotheby’s, exceeding its top estimated sale price of half a million dollars.

A china bowl

A New York auction house has just sold a US$35 bowl for a whopping US$721,800, after it was identified as a ‘lotus bowl’ from the court of China’s Yongle Emperor.

Bought for just US$35 near New Haven, Connecticut, last year at a yard sale, the small blue-and-white floral bowl is now worth nearly 29,000 times the purchase price. It features motifs of lotus, peony, chrysanthemum and pomegranate blossoms, and was originally commissioned by China’s imperial court during the Ming dynasty.

The seller, who has not been identified, told Sotheby’s Head of the Chinese art department, Angela McAteer, that he “didn’t haggle over the US$35 asking price.” Shortly after making the purchase, with the gut feeling he was sitting on a gold mine, he sent photographs of the bowl to auction specialists, who identified it as an item of historical significance.

Upon closer inspection, the artifact, known as a ‘lotus bowl’ was found to have originated from the court of the Yongle Emperor, who ruled from 1403 to 1424. a period noted for its distinctive and celebrated porcelain techniques.

According to Sotheby’s, only six other similar bowls are known to have survived. Some of them are housed by museums across the world, including the National Palace Museum in Taipei, as well as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Following the sale, McAteer said in a press statement: “Today’s result for this exceptionally rare floral bowl, dating to the 15th century, epitomises the incredible, once-in-a-lifetime discovery stories that we dream about as specialists in the Chinese art field…it is a reminder that precious works of art remain hidden in plain sight just waiting to be found.”

So, what are you waiting for, it’s time to clear out your attic!

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