Hidden Gem Inside Shoebox: A Chinese Vase Found in Attic Worth US$600,000

A person brought an old green shoebox to an auction house. He opened it up and wrestled out a Yangcai vase from the pile of wrinkled newspaper. A €500,000 (US$600,000) treasure found most unexpectedly from an ordinary household and delivered straight to the auction house, who would have thought? Experts from The Value paid a visit to Paris, to witness this ‘gem in a shoebox’ which will be auctioned soon.

The owner of a mansion in the countryside of France passed away. When his children were gathering things that belonged to their deceased father, they found an antique vase. On it were Chinese paintings of deer, cranes, mountains and waters. It had been in their attic for a few decades.

A vase appearing out of nowhere, no one knew what to do with it. They thought it would not value much but it’s best to bring it to an auction house, perhaps they could earn some money from it.

Wrapped in some old newspaper and put in a shoebox, the vase was delivered to the hands of experts at an auction house. To the experts’ surprise, the vase was actually a very delicate Yangcai Famille-Rose porcelain vase bearing a mark from the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, who ruled China from 1736 to 1795.

‘Cranes and deer’ is a traditional Chinese pattern. ‘Deer’ in Chinese sounds like ‘six’ while ‘crane’ sounds like ‘union’. 'Six' represents 'the sky, the land, North, East, South and West', which means the entire world. The flowers and trees depict Spring. Combining the images together, the picture shows the revival and union of creatures and plants in Spring time. There is only one other vase with such paintings – another Qianlong Yangcai vase from the Musée Guimet in Paris.

The grandfather of the present owners of the Yangcai Famille-Rose porcelain vase passed away in 1947 in Paris and the vase was one of the items in his schedule of assets. As for the vase in Guimet, a Parisian collector acquired it from an antique dealer, Philippe Sichel in 1890. The two vases might have entered Paris at the end of the 19th century when Asian art started flowing into the Parisian art market.

Porcelains with such elaborate and challenging designs are very rare on Qing imperial porcelain and did not form part of the imperial kilns’ regular production lines. In the thirtieth year of Qianlong (1765) a pair of such vases is recorded by the Eunuch Haifu to have been delivered to one of the Buddha Halls (fotang); and in the thirty-forth year of Qianlong (1769) two such vases are recorded as having been ordered as a birthday tribute. Buddha Halls’ were places of private worship, housing altars for domestic ancestral rites and were part of the Emperor’s private residences.

This vase has 9 deer, most of them in pairs and one of them has the lingzhi mushroom in its mouth. The female and male deer are looking at each other and their fur colours differ. The artist painted 5 cranes, some flying in the air and some walking on land. These two animals, along with pine trees, also signify health and longevity.

This Yangcai vase will be auctioned in Sotheby’s Paris sale in June. Although it has an estimate of €500,000 - 700,000, it is very possible that the hammer price will exceed this amount due to its rarity.


A Magnificent Imperial ‘Yangcai Crane and Deer Ruyi Vase’

Lot no.: 1
Height: 28cm
French Private Collection
Estimate: €500,000 - 700,000


Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby’s Paris
Sale: A Magnificent Imperial ‘Yangcai Crane and Deer Ruyi Vase’
Lots offered: 1
Preview: 2018/6/9 - 11|10am - 6pm
Auction: 2018/6/12|10:30am