Published: November 20, 2001
London Dealers Purchase “Junk Shop” Jar for $1.09 Million
LONDON, ENGLAND – An unrecorded Ming jar purchased from a small antique shop in the 1980s for just $145 sold for a staggering $1.09 million (£751,500) at Sotheby’s on November 14.
It was bought by London dealers Eskenazi Ltd., after a tense seven-minute bidding battle between four telephone bidders and a number of buyers to applause in the packed saleroom.
Dating from 1465-1487, the jar was identified by Sotheby’s Chinese ceramics specialist Julian King. “This is indeed a lost treasure from the Ming dynasty,” he commented. “When it turned up, it seemed to good to be true and I’m delighted that it sold so well for its owner today.”
The unique and unrecorded doucai jar with tian (Heaven) mark from the Chenghua period was decorated with red and yellow elephants dancing among waves. The design was previously known to exist only from deliberately broken fragments – possibly the earliest form of quality control – excavated by archaeologists from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province.
King’s identification of the jar was confirmed by Julian Thompson, the chairman of the gallery’s Asia and a well-known specialist in Chinese works of art, who curated the 1995 Sotheby’s exhibition The Emperor’s Broken China: Reconstructing Chenghua Porcelain.
Thompson, who was bidding for a client on one of the telephones in the saleroom, said, “This is the type of piece that people thought would never come on to the market. Today’s sale is a demonstration that the most astonishing pieces of unrecorded works are still out there waiting to be found.”
The owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “I’m shocked but very pleased. I was there when my father spotted the jar on a shelf at the back of a small shop which sold mostly European ceramics and objets d’art. After purchasing and handling it, he knew straight away that it was probably a Ming piece. When I met him again the following weekend he had done some research and was almost certain that the jar was Chenghua.
“I am delighted to have his hunch finally confirmed, and very pleased to think that my father, who was such a lover of Chinese ceramics all his life, has perhaps ‘rescued’ such an historically important piece. But I certainly didn’t expect it to reach such a staggering price.”
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