A small porcelain bowl purchased for $35 at a Connecticut yard sale turned out to be a rare, 15th-century Chinese artifact that could fetch between $300,000 and $500,000 at an auction this month.
An antiques enthusiast spotted the white bowl, adorned with cobalt blue paintings of flowers and other designs, at a yard sale in the New Haven area last year — thinking there might be more than met the eye, according to the Sotheby’s auction house.
The buyer, who is not being named, paid $35 for the item and later emailed information and photos to Sotheby’s asking for an evaluation.
Angela McAteer and Hang Yin, the auction house’s experts on Chinese ceramics and art, said they realized right away that there was something remarkable about this item.
“It was immediately apparent to both of us that we were looking at something really very, very special,” said McAteer, Sotheby’s senior vice president and head of its Chinese Works of Art Department. “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 determined that the bowl — made in the shape of a lotus bud or chicken heart — dates back to the Yongle emperor, the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty, and was made for the Yongle court.
“The Yongle court (1403 – 1424) brought a very distinctive new style to the porcelain kilns of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi, a style immediately recognizable, never surpassed, and defining the craft still in the eighteenth century,” said a description of the product on the auction website.
“In every respect, this delicate bowl is a quintessential Yongle product, made for the court, showing the striking combination of superb material and painting with a slightly exotic design that characterizes imperial porcelain of this period.”
The specialists confirmed it was from the 1400s when they looked at it in person. It was smooth to the touch, had a silky glaze and the color and designs are distinctive of that period.
Most of the six other bowls like this one are in museums — from London to Taipei, Taiwan, to Tehran, Iran, according to Sotheby’s. None are in the US.
It’s unclear how this one ended up at a Connecticut yard sale. It could have been passed down through generations of the same family who knew nothing of its history and value.
“It’s always quite astounding to think that it kind of still happens, that these treasures can be discovered,” McAteer said. “It’s always really exciting for us as specialists when something we didn’t even know existed here appears seemingly out of nowhere.”
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