An elderly English couple got the shock of their lives when they discovered the bowl the family cat was using as a bed was in fact a Ming Dynasty-era antique over 400 years old.
The couple from Essex in southern England prefer to stay anonymous, but say that the antique came into the family along with several others around 1900 through one of the owner’s great-grandfathers.
Over the years the couple had donated the finest pieces to museums, keeping the damaged items as sentimental keepsakes and only deigned to sell the bowl when they decided to move house.
Nevertheless, while the piece is far from mint-condititon and shows the wear and tear of age, the ceramic “crackle glazed” bowl, decorated with billowing clouds and coiling blue dragon on the exterior, set off a frenzy among Chinese bidders drove the original £200 price, around $335 USD, to a hammer price of £90,000, or over $151,000 USD.
The Ming Dynasty, lasting from 1368-1644, rose from the ashes of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty.
Also known as the Empire of the Great Ming, it was the last empire in China to be controlled by ethnic Han and heralded one of the greatest cultural peaks of Chinese civilization.
Highly prized was Ming ceramic ware, whose distinctive blue-on-white patterns make it instantly recognizable by collectors and connoisseurs alike.
Ming artisans produced fine porcelain on an unprecedented scale, exporting highly-prized bowls and vases as far as the royal courts of Europe, the Muslim world, and Africa.
Chinese bidders are now a common presence in the extremely competitive world of auctions.
Newly flush with cash, China is eager to reclaim its heritage exported, lost, or plundered during the Cultural Revolution or European occupation in the final days of the crumbling Qing Dynasty (which followed the Ming).
Far outnumbering the collections in China’s own museums, UNESCO estimates 17 million Chinese cultural items are flung across the globe in at least 47 different countries.
Because the history of an antique, its provenance, can often be murky even if entirely legally obtained, experts and bidders alike are often at loggerheads over whether items are authentic or faked.
It is likely that the Essex bowl sold for so much because its history was so well documented.