The 18th-century Qing Dynasty jars were found by an unsuspecting buyer in London who had no idea how rare or valuable they were.
A passionate ceramics collector was browsing a London thrift store when they came across two porcelain jars. These colorful jars immediately stood out, and the collector had to have them.
Later, they would discover that the jars were 18th-century Qing Dynasty porcelain and that the pair could be worth more than $60,000 — eventually selling for over $74,000.
The jars are roughly 4.5 inches tall and feature yellow and red chrysanthemums and lotus flowers. Roseberys London, an art auction house, said the jars are examples of “doucai” lotus and chrysanthemum jars. “Doucai” is a Chinese porcelain painting technique in which an artist uses blue hues on a jar before glazing and adding other colors on top.
According to Roseberys London’s listing of the jars, “No exact prototype can be found for this design, but the pattern is known in bowls, an example of which was excavated from the waste heaps of the Ming imperial kilns at Jingdezhen.”
According to the Smithsonian, Qing Dynasty artists created the jars in Jingdezhen in the Jiangxi province of China using imperial kilns.
Often, artists included chrysanthemum motifs in their work as a symbol of a long, wealthy, and happy life.
Although the collector did not know it at the time of the purchase, the jars also featured a royal stamp on their bottoms. This stamp was the seal of Qianlong, an emperor of the Qing Dynasty who ruled for six decades.
It was this stamp that led the collector to search for more information about the jars. Once there was enough evidence that the jars were more than the average thrift store ceramics, the collector brought them to an art house.
There, specialists told the collector that they were 18th-century Qing Dynasty jars that could sell for quite a lot of money. Unfortunately, minor cosmetic damage, such as hairline cracks and scratches to the jars, would bring the sale price down, but they could still fetch thousands.
From there, the collector began the process of putting them up for auction. Just yesterday, the jars sold for a whopping $74,640.
While imperial porcelain is rare, this isn’t the first time lotus and chrysanthemum jars have been up for auction. In 2021, Sotheby’s London sold a pair of jars with the same design (but with their lids) for $350,000. Christie’s Hong Kong sold two jars in 2013 for $782,000.
These finds can be incredibly valuable, and for the collector, an expert at the auction house is glad that they had a good enough eye to spot them.
“I think anyone who is in the presence of imperial Chinese porcelain, regardless of their experience, will feel drawn to them on some level,” Bill Forrest, head of Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian art at Roseberys, stated to CNN.
Many wondered how the jars went unnoticed by staff at the thrift store, but Forrest explained that it is more common than most people think:
“My heart sinks when I read of Chinese objects being sold through charity chops for a mere pittance,” Forrest told CNN, adding in Artnet that “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 highlights the importance of specialist knowledge when it comes to selling Chinese porcelain.”
And while the thrift store may have missed out on an opportunity, the seller kept them in mind. Upon the sale, a “significant portion” of the profits were to go to the charity that runs the store.
So, next time you are browsing the ceramic section of a thrift store, be sure to keep your eyes peeled. You never know if you could be next to stumble upon the next big find.
After reading about the Qing Dynasty jars purchased at a thrift store, take a look at these 44 stunning photos of Qing Dynasty China. Then, read about how a Qing Dynasty empress brought China into the modern age.