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Lockdown find: Chinese wine vessel found in garage sells for $500K

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

A tiny teapot-shaped antique, discovered in a garage in England during a lockdown clear-out, sold for £390,000 ($497,000) Thursday, after its owner took it to an auctioneer for a free valuation.

Described by British auction house Hansons as the "find of the year," the item was identified as a rare 18th-century wine vessel -- known as a ewer -- that carries the mark of China's Qianlong Emperor.

Weighing just 362 grams (0.8 pounds), the enamel and copper antique is decorated with a floral motif and features a small handle and spout. The item's owner had inherited the item from his grandfather who, the auction house believes, "acquired" the item "while stationed in the Far East" during World War II.

The tiny item weighs just 362 grams (0.8 pounds).

The tiny item weighs just 362 grams (0.8 pounds). Credit: Hansons

According to Hansons, the seller had considered giving the object to a thrift store, and had "thought our antiques expert might laugh when he brought it in for a free valuation."
"This came in a bag," said Hansons' founder, Charles Hanson, in a video posted prior to the sale. "The vendor had no idea. (The item) had sat in lockdown in a box, on a cabinet shelf, in a house in South Derbyshire. And unbeknown to him -- now he knows -- this object might be life-changing, financially."
The auctioneer had initially estimated that the rare receptacle would sell for between £20,000 and £40,000 ($25,000 to $51,000), though prior to the sale it revised its estimate to between £100,000 and £150,000 ($127,000 to $191,000).
The mark of China's Qianlong Emperor on the object's underside.

The mark of China's Qianlong Emperor on the object's underside. Credit: Hansons

Rediscovered treasures

Although Covid-19 restrictions prevented a conventional live auction, the sale was livestreamed online, with prospective buyers making bids via telephone. The item sold after a bidding battle lasting just under 12 minutes.

While the identity of the new owner has not yet been revealed, auction boss Hanson said -- in a video published shortly before the sale -- that he was expecting collectors from both China and America to join the bidding.

How do art auctions really work?

Hansons has brought a number of other lost Chinese antiques to auction in recent years. In 2017, an 18th-century plate found in a South Derbyshire kitchen cupboard sold at the auction house £230,000 ($292,000). The year before, Hansons oversaw the £650,000 ($826,000) sale of a vase, also from Qianlong's reign, that was being used as a doorstop.

Back in 2011, meanwhile, a couple seeking a free evaluation for an old vase found that item was a Qing dynasty treasure, which later sold for £192,000 ($244,000). Upon bringing the item for inspection, the pair had been "hoping to get £25 ($32)," Hansons' founder wrote last year.

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