Someone Purchased a $500K Ming Dynasty Bowl at a Yard Sale for $35

published Mar 8, 2021
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Credit: Dabney Frake

Auction house Sotheby’s is hosting an auction on March 17 called Important Chinese Art in which it’ll auction off several pieces of antique Chinese pottery, sculpture, and furniture, including one very important bowl that was purchased at a yard sale in New Haven, CT for $35 and is now slated to sell for anywhere between $300K to $500K. Jaw. Drop.

Angela McAteer, Sotheby’s Head of Chinese Art, told CNN on Feb. 24 that the anonymous seller “didn’t haggle over the $35 asking price” when they spotted the intricately painted blue-and-white Ming dynasty-era bowl at the sale. It is believed the bowl was commissioned by China’s Imperial Court at some point during the Yongle reign (of the Ming Dynasty) which lasted from 1402 to 1424.

Credit: Sotheby's

The description of the bowl on the Sotheby’s website describes it as being “delicately potted in the shape of a lotus bud (lianzi) or chicken heart (jixin), with deep rounded sides and a pointed base resting on a short, narrow foot, finely painted in rich tones of cobalt blue accented with characteristic ‘heaping and piling.’” The interior of the bowl features a central medallion “encircled by a narrow band of alternating stylized florets formed of dots and leaves.”

Credit: Sotheby's

The original buyer knew exactly what it was when they saw it at the yard sale, and immediately after purchasing, they sent photos to Sotheby’s to confirm its historical significance. “We instinctively had a very, very good feeling about it,” McAteer told CNN, noting that the smooth porcelain body and “unctuous silky glaze” pointed to a Yongle-era piece.

The bowl is small, only about 6 inches around, but was likely used in the Yongle court, thus dictating its price tag. It’s one of seven Yongle-era bowls known to have survived the centuries, with the six others being housed in museums like the National Palace Museum in Taipei and the British Museum in London.

If you have an extra $500K and are a huge fan of Ming dynasty-era porcelain, then you can place a bid on this bowl come March 17 when the Chinese art auction goes live online.