A 15th-Century Porcelain Bowl Bought At Yard Sale For US$35 Fetches US$722,000

A porcelain bowl found at a yard sale in the US, is worth way more than its price tag of US$35. The great find snatched up in a Connecticut neighborhood turned out to be a rare 15th-century blue and white artifact from China.

Following the Brooklyn Museum sale on Sotheby’s second day in New York Asia Week, an array of Chinese works of art went under the hammer. The top lot of the sale was a late Shang bronze vessel which fetched US$5.4m with fees, yet it was the Ming blue and white bowl that was sold 20,000 times its original price that caught our attention.

Lot 130 | A blue and white “floral” bowl, Ming dynasty, Yongle period

Diameter: 16 cm

Provenance: American Private Collection, acquired in Connecticut

Estimate: US$300,000 - 500,000

Hammer price: US$580,000

Price realized: US$721,800


Described by auctioneer Christina Prescott-Walker as a lot that was “extensively covered on the news,” the bid for the blue and white bowl started at US$150,000 and immediately elicited intensive bids from online and three interested phone bidders. The price soared past the presale low estimate in less than a minute. By then, only two clients, represented by Cara Zhuang from Sotheby’s Chinese Works of Art department and Angela McAteer, Senior Vice President respectively, remained in the bidding battle. After around 10 more bids, the lot was sold to McAteer’s client with a paddle number L0076, for US$721,800 with premium.


Angela McAteer, Senior Vice President, Sotheby’s New York

A closer look at the Ming blue and white “floral” bowl


The consignor purchased the blue and white bowl last year, in a Connecticut yard sale for US$35. Little did he know that it was indeed a rare find from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

The vessel was made for the Yongle court (1403-1424). During then, the Samarra Blue (sumali qing) or Sumatra Blue (suboni qing) cobalt pigments used in blue and white porcelain production were of more reliable quality. The craftsmanship of local artisans working in porcelain kilns of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi also reached its apex.



The blue and white bowl is potted in the shape of a lotus bud, with deep rounded sides and a slightly pointed base resting on a short foot. The interior is decorated with a central medallion that imbues an exotic vibe that characterizes imperial porcelain of the Yongle period. The striking “heaping and piling” effect can be observed throughout the vessel. The exterior is elegantly decorated with four blossoms of lotus, peony, chrysanthemum, and pomegranate flower.

While how the bowl made its way to a neighborhood yard sale in the first place remains a mystery, what Sotheby’s knows is that there are only six other comparable examples of such bowls known to exist, most residing in museums.

Lot 193 | An archaic bronze ritual food vessel, gui
Late Shang dynasty, probably c. 1072 BC 
Width: 28.3 cm

  • Collection of Aisin Gioro Shengyu (1850-1899)
  • Dr. Ernst Hauswedell, Hamburg, December 9, 1957, lot 4
  • Dr. Ernst Hauswedell, Hamburg, May 23, 1970, lot 1
  • Collection of Sammlung Gottfried Hertel (1925-2019)

Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000
Hammer price: US$4,500,000
Price realized: US$5,434,500


The second half of the sale was passed to auctioneer Michael Macaulay. He opened the star lot of the day at US$450,000 and saw at least five interested bidders from both online and phone. The bidding battle lasted for 16 minutes, with mainly the clients represented by Angela McAteer, Senior Vice President of Sotheby’s New York, and Hang Yin, Assistant Vice President going back and forth after the US$2m mark. It took nearly 60 bids in total to reach the hammer bid from Yin in the end and the archaic bronze vessel was sold to the phone bidder with paddle number L0019, for a whopping US$5.4m with fees, nearly seven times the presale high estimate.


Hang Yin, Assistant Vice President, Sotheby’s New York 


Dating back to circa 1072 BC, the present bronze vessel is finely cast below the rim with a kuilong band centered by beast masks. Interrupted by a pair of loop handles with pendent tabs, the body rises above the foot decorated with another kuilong band. The inscription cast in the interior details a nine-month military expedition of the Shang against the Renfang, or Yifang, highlighting the historic significance the vessel holds.

Here are the remaining top lots of the sale:

Lot 210 | A “zitan” corner-leg table, tiaozhuo 

Qing dynasty, 18th century

Dimensions: 93 cm (height); 168.9 cm (width); 59.4 cm (depth)

Provenance: Sotheby's New York, March 20, 2002, lot 320

Estimate: US$80,000 - 120,000

Hammer price: US$450,000

Price realized: US$564,500

Lot 192 | An archaic bronze ritual food vessel, gui 

Late Shang dynasty

Width: 37.5 cm


  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby's London, May 16, 1967, lot 38
  • J.T. Tai, New York
  • Collection of Arthur M. Sackler (1913-1987)
  • Collection of Else Sackler (1913-2000)
  • Collection of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation
  • Christie's New York, September 14, 2017, lot 904

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000

Hammer price: US$400,000

Price realized: US$504,000

Lot 204 | A pair of “huanghuali' continuous yokeback armchairs, nanguanmaoyi

17th century

Dimensions: 119.4 cm (height); 59.7 cm (width); 46.4 cm (depth)

Provenance: Grace Wu Bruce, Ltd., London, 2001

Estimate: US$ 60,000 - 80,000

Hammer price: US$280,000

Price realized: US$352,800


Lot 258 | A parcel-gilt bronze “dragon” censer
Qing dynasty, 18th/ 19th century
Width: 36 cm
Provenance: New England Private Collection, acquired between the 1950s and 1980s
Estimate: US$10,000 - 15,000
Hammer price: US$250,000
Price realized: US$315,000

Lot 131 | A blue and white lobed “fruit and flower” bowl
Xuande mark and period
Diameter: 22.8 cm

  • Collection of a Canadian diplomat, acquired in Southeast Asia between the 1950s and 1970s
  • Canadian Private Collection

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000
Hammer price: US$250,000
Price realized: US$315,000

Auction Summary:

Auction house: Sotheby’s New York

Sale: Important Chinese Art

Date: March 17, 2021

Lots offered: 182

Lots sold: 140

Lots unsold: 42

Sale by lot: 77%

Sale total: US$13,881,380