Sometimes, even auction houses need a second opinion. Nesbits Auctioneers & Appraisers in the U.K. estimated a pair of blue and white Chinese porcelain vases at a value of about £100, or about $125 in U.S. currency, ahead of their March 6 auction. The vases attracted a bidding frenzy and ultimately sold for £351,000—or nearly $450,000!

Qianlong porcelain vases

The vases came to the auction house under familiar circumstances: A vendor in Portsmouth was cleaning out his mother’s home and found them in the attic. Like many of the most famous Chinese porcelain pieces, they are blue and white. The design features bats, a symbol of good luck, and peaches, which stand for immortality.

The vases were marked for the Qianlong dynasty, which lasted from 1736 to 1795, but appraisers knew that wasn’t a guarantee they were that old. Chinese artisans have made copies of older porcelains for hundreds of years, including copying the original marks. Collectors and experts often call such marks “apocryphal.” These copies were not intended to be fakes, and many are old enough to be antiques. However, this also means that authentic pieces can be misidentified as copies. There are plenty of stories of valuable Chinese porcelain discovered at thrift stores or in family homes. Appraisers need to carefully consider other clues, like the provenance, condition of the piece, colors, and quality of the design, in order to determine its age.

Nesbits listed the vases online as dating to the 20th century with apocryphal marks. They were soon contacted by professional collectors and porcelain experts who thought otherwise. Many of these experts went to the auction house to view the vases in person. Those who couldn’t do so looked at pictures taken under ultraviolet light, which can show signs of restoration. They came to a consensus: The marks were not apocryphal. The vases were authentic Qianlong porcelain.

Qianlong porcelain mark

After 20 minutes of bidding, the vases went to a Chinese buyer. The price set a house record for Nesbits, whose previous highest sale was £48,000 for a Sino-Tibetan gilt bronze statue of a bodhisattva.

And what about the vendor who found the vases in his mother’s attic? According to Dan Tricker, a salesroom manager at Nesbits, he had to decide earlier this year between home renovations and a holiday. Now he doesn’t have to choose, and he plans to take multiple holidays.

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One response to “Originally Valued at $125, Pair of Chinese Vases Found in Attic Sell for Nearly $450,000”

  1. Andrea Mocella says:

    Wow what a fascinating story.

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