Vase Bought At Thrift Store For $3.30 Turns Out To Be Rare Japanese Antique

Published July 14, 2023
Updated March 12, 2024

A couple was perusing a UK thrift store when they stumbled on a tiny vase with Japanese inscriptions on the bottom — that turned out to be from Meiji-era artist Namikawa Yasuyuki.

Charity Shop Vase

The Canterbury Auction GalleriesThe tiny Meiji-era vase bought at a charity shop for £2.50, or $3.30.

A four-inch Meiji-era vase bought at a UK thrift store for $3.30 could fetch up to $11,800 at auction.

According to CNN, a couple perusing a charity shop in Surrey stumbled on the vase.

“My partner Ahmet and I wandered into the charity shop to have a look around – I always head for the books and he heads off to look for art and vintage stuff,” Karen, one of the purchasers of the vase said. “He’s not an expert but he does have great taste and an instinct for the ‘real thing.'”

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Episode 79: History Happy Hour, July 2023
These are the most fascinating history news stories and anniversaries of the month, from a Viking warrior's grave in Norway to a thrift store vase that proved to be a valuable relic.

Reportedly, Ahmet noticed the inscriptions on the base of the vase and figured they meant something important.

“He came over and showed me the vase and I said something a bit dismissive like ‘very pretty.’ ‘No, look at the base!’ he said, and showed me the etched marks,” Karen added.

Vase Base Stamp

The Canterbury Auction GalleriesThe stamp on the bottom of the vase.

The couple purchased the vase and took it home to do some research. There, they discovered that Namikawa Yasuyuki had crafted the vase.

According to ARTnews, Namikawa Yasuyuki was one of the most famous ceramist and cloisonné artists of Meiji Japan.

Living between 1845 and 1927, Yasuyuki was both a former samurai and a master of cloisonné, an art technique that involves smoldering metal to create a design. After smoldering, the artist will fill in the empty spaces with enamel or other materials before firing it in a kiln. Finally, the artist will polish the piece.

The tiny vase found at the thrift store features naturalistic depictions of birds on a black background which is a signature mark of Yasuyuki.

With research strengthening their suspicions, the couple decided to take the piece to experts for confirmation.

Ultimately, the couple agreed to bring the vase to The Canterbury Auction Galleries, a gallery that has previously auctioned Yasuyuki’s work, for an appraisal. There, they found out that the vase was indeed the work of Namikawa Yasuyuki and that it could be worth up to $11,800.

“The beautiful work by Yasuyuki’s Kyoto studio is held in several collections and is highly sought-after,” specialist Cliona Kilroy, co-director of Canterbury Auction Galleries, said in a statement reported on by Daily Mail. “He and Namikawa Sōsuke were the most famous cloisonné artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – the ‘Golden Age’ of enamelling in Japan.”

The vase is set to go to auction on July 29. Other vases from Namikawa Yasuyuki have sold for thousands, including a vase that sold for $38,000 in 2019.

With the windfall in their near future, the couple has plans to make a hefty donation to the charity shop they purchased the vase from and even go on a vacation.


After learning about the antique Japanese vase found at a thrift store, discover a story of how a ceramics collector discovered Qing Dynasty jars at a London thrift store. Then, dive into the story of the rise and fall of the Japanese Empire, which began to develop around the same time as Namikawa Yasuyuki’s artistic career.

author
Amber Morgan
author
Amber Morgan is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
editor
John Kuroski
editor
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Morgan, Amber. "Vase Bought At Thrift Store For $3.30 Turns Out To Be Rare Japanese Antique." AllThatsInteresting.com, July 14, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/namikawa-yasuyuki-vase. Accessed May 25, 2024.