Porcelain Bowl Purchased at Yard Sale for $35 Sells at Auction for Nearly $722,000

15th Century bowl bought for $35 sold at Sotheby's for nearly $722,000
Sotheby's Auction House

The 6-inch bowl dates back to the Yongle Emperor, the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty, and was made for the Yongle court in the 15th century. It is one of only seven such bowls known to exist in the world, according to Sotheby’s.

Remember that porcelain white bowl with the cobalt-blue floral design that was purchased at a Connecticut yard sale for $35? In case you were following, that charming little bowl happened to be a rare find that dates back to the Yongle Emperor, the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty, and sold at a Sotheby’s auction for a staggering $721,800 last week, according to a report. 

One of only seven such bowls is known to exist in the world, the rarity was among a variety of Chinese works of art sold by Sotheby’s as part of its Asia Week events. The names of the seller and buyer were not disclosed, the Associated Press reported

The bowl was first discovered when an antiques enthusiast stumbled upon it at a yard sale in the New Haven area last year. With its ornate design and shape, the buyer knew that it could be something special. The individual sent the photo to Sotheby’s, which had an auction specialist assess it, according to a report.

During the evaluation, Sotheby’s confirmed that the bowl was from the 1400s. The bowl was very smooth to the touch, its glaze was silky and the color and designs were distinctive of the period, according to the art specialist, the AP reported. 

“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,”said Angela McAteer, Sotheby’s senior vice president and head of its Chinese Works of Art Department.

Sotheby’s had estimated the value of the artifact at $300,000 to $500,000. Last week’s auction garnered 15 bids, starting at $200,000 from someone online and ending at $580,000 from another person bidding by phone. The official purchase price, including various fees, was $721,800, a report said. 

The bowl was made in the shape of a lotus bud or chicken heart. The inside 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, according to the auction house. Sotheby's stated that the other six bowls are in museums in Taiwan, Tehran, Taipei, London and Iran. None are located in museums in the United States. 

Sotheby’s details the history behind the ornate find. The bowl was made for the Yongle court, which was known to have ushered in a new style to the porcelain kilns in the city of Jingdezhen, in Jiangxi region of China.

McAteer described how she felt about the exceptional 15th-century treasure. “It epitomizes the incredible, once-in-a-lifetime discovery stories that we dream about as specialists in the Chinese Art field,” she said in a statement.