Rare bowl bought at yard sale sells for $721K at auction

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A 6-inch Chinese porcelain bowl that was bought for $35 at a Connecticut yard sale was sold at auction Wednesday for a staggering $721,800, which includes a buyer’s premium.

It was expected to fetch between $300,000 to $500,000 at Sotheby’s on the Upper East Side. The hammer price, which does not include the buyer’s premium and overhead premium, was $580,000.

The name of the winning bidder in the Sotheby’s Auction of Important Chinese Art auction is private.

The Ming Dynasty-era bowl — one of only seven such items to exist in the world — was made in the shape of a lotus bud or chicken heart and dates back to the Yongle emperor in the 15th century.

The identity of the buyer was not disclosed by Sotheby’s.

An unnamed antiques enthusiast spotted the rare artifact, adorned with cobalt blue paintings of flowers and other designs, at a yard sale in the New Haven area last year.

Realizing there might be more than met the eye, the person shelled $35 for the blockbuster bowl 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 quickly realized that there was something remarkable about the little bowl.

The bowl is one of only seven such items to exist in the world.
The bowl is one of only seven such items to exist in the world.
Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

“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,” she said, adding that it 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. 

The bowl is confirmed to have been made in the 1400s.
The bowl is confirmed to have been made in the 1400s.
Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

“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.

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