It pays to know a little something about Chinese ceramics. A pair of jars bought for $25 by a curious customer in a London thrift shop turned out to be 18th-century treasures from the Qing Dynasty that sold Tuesday for about $57,500 at Roseberys Fine Art Auctioneers in London.
The anonymous thrift-shop buyer didn’t know what he had in the two imperial Chinese doucai “lotus and chrysanthemum” jars, only that he thought the 4-1/2-inch-tall were unique enough to have an expert look at them.
“It highlights the importance of specialist knowledge when it comes to selling Chinese porcelain,” said Bill Forrest, associate director and head of Chinese, Japanese and South East Asian Art at Roseberys.
Doucai is a porcelain painting technique used in the earlier Ming dynasty where designs are outlined in blue before being glazed. The jars feature rounds of blooming red and yellow chrysanthemum heads interspersed with tendrils of lotus flowers. They bear the Qianlong seal marks on the base in underglaze blue. Chrysanthemums and orchids were two of the four “gentlemen flowers” commonly painted on porcelain, with chrysanthemums a popular motif given their association with long life and wealth. The jars would have been used to store tea leaves.
“These jars are extremely well-potted and painted with great skill and finesse,” Forrest said. “Of course, charity shops can be forgiven for overlooking such specialized objects as these due to the volume and variety of donations they receive.”
It’s not the first time lotus and chrysanthemum jars with the same design have sold at auction. In 2021, a pair sold at Sotheby’s London for $350,000 and in 2013 another pair sold at Christie’s Hong Kong for in $782,000. The presence of small hairlines on the thrift shop jars and the absence of lids explains the difference between their value at Roseberys and the prices previously achieved for the Qing dynasty jars.
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