Porcelain bowl bought for $35 at Connecticut yard sale turns out to be rare Chinese artifact worth up to $500K

How the bowl ended up at in a Connecticut yard sale remains a mystery though it is quite possible that it was passed down through generations of the same family who did not know how valuable it was


                            Porcelain bowl bought for $35 at Connecticut yard sale turns out to be rare Chinese artifact worth up to $500K
The rare Ming era porcelain bowl, bought for $35 at a yard sale, could sell for $500,000 when it is auctioned (Sotheby's)

A buyer at a Connecticut yard sale found the deal of a lifetime after spotting a porcelain bowl and bought it for $35. It turned out to be a rare,15th-century Chinese artifact worth between $300,000 and $500,000. Talk about a bargain buy.

The white bowl with a delicate pattern in cobalt blue is around 16 cms in diameter. The buyer was an antiques' enthusiast who picked it up when browsing a yard sale in the New Haven area last year, according to Sotheby's. The buyer, who has chosen to remain anonymous, later emailed information and photos of the bowl to Sotheby's asking for an evaluation. The auction house's experts on Chinese ceramics and art, Angela McAteer and Hang Yin, get such enquiry emails all the time. However, this time the buyer's hunch that the bowl was something special was bang on the money.

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McAteer, who is Sotheby's senior vice-president and head of its Chinese Works of Art Department, said that "it was immediately apparent to both of us that we were looking at something really very, very special". The style of painting, the shape of the bowl, and the distinctive blue colour of the designs on the bowl's surface was characteristic of porcelain bowls produced in the 1400s during the early Ming period.

Top view of porcelain bowl listed by Sotheby's as "an exceptional and rare blue and white 'floral' bowl, Ming dynasty, Yongle period" (Sotheby's)

McAteer and Yin determined the bowl was made during the reign of the Yongle emperor, the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty and was made for the Yongle court. The Yongle court 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, according to Sotheby's. The bowl was made in the shape of a lotus bud and is decorated with a medallion at the bottom and a quatrefoil motif surrounded by flowers. The outside includes four blossoms of lotus, peony, chrysanthemum and pomegranate flower. There are also intricate patterns at the top of both the outside and inside.

Side view of porcelain Ming era bowl which will be up for auction in New York on March 17 as part of the Sotheby's Auction of Important Chinese Art. (Sotheby's)

Only six other such bowls have been found till now and none of them in the US. There are two at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, two at museums in London and one in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran, according to Sotheby's. How the bowl ended up in a Connecticut yard sale remains a mystery.

According to McAteer, it is quite possible that it was passed down through generations of the same family who did not know how unique or valuable it was. "It's always quite astounding to think that it kind of still happens, that these treasures can be discovered," said McAteer about the find. The piece, one of only seven such bowls known to exist in the world, will be up for auction in New York on March 17 as part of the Sotheby's Auction of Important Chinese Art.

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