Yard sales can be full of hidden gems, but only a few of them will net you half a million dollars at auction.
The unidentified person spotted the bowl at a yard sale in New Haven, Conn., and instantly suspected that it was something special, according to Sotheby’s auction house. The white porcelain bowl measured 16 centimetres in diameter, and it appeared to have been hand-painted with a blue floral design.
The individual paid the $35 asking price for the bowl and sent photos to Sotheby’s for more information, hoping that it was a diamond in the rough.
And it was.
The bowl was a centuries-old artifact from the Ming dynasty, according to Angela McAteer and Hang Yin, the experts on Chinese ceramics and art at Sotheby’s.
“It was immediately apparent to both of us that we were looking at something really very, very special,” McAteer told The Associated Press. “The style of painting, the shape of the bowl, even just the colour of the blue is quite characteristic of that early, early 15th century period of porcelain.”
The bowl dates back to the early 1400s and is one of only seven in existence, McAteer and Yin say. The other six are currently on display at museums.
They say the bowl has all the telltale markings of ceramics from that era, such as a smooth surface, a silky glaze and a distinct cobalt-blue colouring in the floral design. Such ceramics became popular under the Yongle emperor, who was the third ruler of the Ming dynasty.
“All the characteristics and hallmarks are there that identify it as a product of the early Ming period,” McAteer said.
The bowl is shaped like a lotus bud or chicken heart, with finely painted cobalt-blue depictions of various flowers, according to the Sotheby’s listing. It’s considered to be in very good condition overall, though Sotheby’s does point out a “minute shallow 0.3-centimetre chip to the outer rim and minor characteristic warping to (the) rim.”
The bowl will go up for auction in New York on March 17 as part of the Sotheby’s Auction of Important Chinese Art.
It’s unclear how the bowl found its way across the Pacific Ocean and onto the lawn of a home in New Haven, Conn.
McAteer suggested that perhaps it was a family heirloom, and the former owner simply did not know its true history or value.
“It’s always quite astounding to think that it 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.”
The lucky antique hunter has asked to remain anonymous, and the unfortunate former owner of the bowl has not been identified.
—With files from The Associated Press