One man’s trash, another man’s treasure

By Darby Jones April 14, 2021
A rare Chinese bowl bought at a yard sale for $35 goes for over $700k at Sotheby’s auction.

A rare 15th-century porcelain bowl made in China recently sold at a Connecticut yard sale for just $35. It was then auctioned in March for around $722,000.

The small cobalt blue-and-white floral bowl is about 6 inches in diameter. It features designs of lotus, peony, chrysanthemum, and pomegranate blossoms. The artifact, known as a “lotus bowl,” was originally commissioned by China’s imperial court during the Ming dynasty.

The person who purchased the bowl from the yard sale is an antique aficionado who thought it could be very valuable. The buyer emailed information and photos to Sotheby’s asking for an evaluation.

“It’s always quite astounding to think that it kind of still happens, that these treasures can be discovered,” said Angela McAteer, Sotheby’s senior vice president and head of its Chinese Works of Art Department. “It’s always really exciting for us as specialists when something we didn’t even know existed here appears seemingly out of nowhere.”

Sotheby’s estimated that the bowl could be worth $300,000 to $500,000. The bowl garnered 15 bids, starting at $200,000 and concluding at $580,000. The final purchase price was $721,800, which included numerous fees.

Sotheby’s specialists date the bowl to the era of the Yongle Emperor, who ruled from 1403 to 1424. The porcelain work of the era is described as “immediately recognizable, never surpassed, and defining the craft still in the eighteenth century.”

It is unclear how the bowl made it to the yard sale, but it is likely that it could have been passed down for generations in a family that was unaware of its value.

While only six other similar bowls are known to exist in the world, this is the only one found in the United States. The majority of the others are housed in museums all over the globe, from Taipei to London.