A 15th-century Yongle bowl will go up for auction at Sotheby’s this month. The piece was found at a yard sale. (all images courtesy of Sotheby’s)

We’ve all spent time practicing our surprised face for the Antiques Roadshow moment where our attic clutter is revealed to be a priceless antiquity, but a discerning attendee of a New Haven yard sale is about to cash in for real. An unnamed Connecticut man submitted images of a small blue and white bowl he purchased to Sotheby’s, and the find has subsequently been confirmed as an authentic piece of Ming dynasty porcelain. According to a CNN interview with Sotheby’s head of Chinese art, Angela McAteer, the man “didn’t haggle over the $35 asking price,” but the item is now expected to go for up to $500,000 at auction.

Even from photos, McAteer had a strong suspicion that the bowl was an item of historic significance. Upon physical inspection, specialists found evidence of techniques that originated from the court of the Yongle Emperor, who ruled from 1403 to 1424.

According to Sotheby’s, “This delicate bowl is a quintessential Yongle product made for the court, showing the striking combination of superb material and painting with a slightly exotic design that characterizes imperial porcelain of this period.”

McAteer told CNN the bowl had an “incredibly smooth porcelain body” and a “really unctuous silky glaze,” which “was never replicated in future reigns or dynasties … it had all the hallmarks that one would expect of these great commissions of the Yongle period.”

The “lotus bowl,” so-called because it mimics the shape of a lotus bud, is now valued between $300,000 and $500,000, which seems like a pretty return on investment for a $35 yard sale purchase. The find will be auctioned on March 17 as part of “Asia Week 2021,” a series of Sotheby’s sales featuring Asian artifacts, antiques, and contemporary art from across the continent.

The buyer didn’t haggle over the $35 price tag on this piece of historic pottery.

It’s unlikely that there are many more of these diamonds in the rough. Only six companion bowls to the piece are known, with most held in the most renowned museum collections in the world, including two in the National Palace Museum, Taipei; one in the British Museum; one in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and one in the National Museum of Iran, Tehran. Nonetheless, one has to wonder when yard sale season will start again, and how much Sotheby’s is willing to offer for my probably priceless velvet Elvis painting and a blue glass ashtray shaped like an owl. Call me, auctioneers!

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit —...