NEW YORK - As the bidding for lot 94 progressed, a hushed silence fell over the saleroom. Although it was packed with over 200 people, the only sound was coming from the auctioneer, Henry Howard-Sneyd, and the phone bidders. Eventually, the tension was broken by applause, as the Rare and Important ‘Ding’ Bowl, dating to the Northern Song dynasty, brought in $2.23 million against its estimate of $200,000-300,000, selling to legendary London dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi.

A Rare and Important 'Ding' Bowl, Northern Song Dynasty, sold for $2,225,000.

The consignors paid less than $3.00 for the bowl in a tag sale, near their home in New York State in 2007. Yes, $3.00. I’m not a finance guy, but that must be the best return on a $3.00 investment ever. When it was bought, the consignors had no idea that what they had picked up was no ordinary bowl. It was displayed in the living room of the family’s home for several years, until they suspected that it might have some value and contacted Sotheby’s.

Some value is right.

The bowl is a remarkable and exceptionally beautiful example of Song pottery, made at the Ding kilns, situated in Ding prefecture in what is today Hebei province. These wares were celebrated for their thin potting, fine near-white bodies, and ivory-colored glaze. The only other known bowl of the same form, size and almost identical decoration has been in the collection of the British Museum in London for over 60 years, having been bequeathed to the museum by the prominent British collector Henry J. Oppenheim in 1947. Song Ceramics are increasingly sought after by Chinese Art connoisseurs and this was just one of a number of strong prices achieved for examples of these works in the sale. 

Another lot that has an interesting back story is lot 226, A Famille-rose ‘Boys at Play’ Ovoid Vase, Jiaqing Mark and Period, which sold for $173,000 against its pre-sale estimate of $70,000-100,000.

A Famille-Rose 'Boys at Play' Ovoid Vase. Jiaqing Seal Mark and Period, sold for $173,000.

The consignor had bought the vase from a local antique market with his mother near his home in 1995.  After his mother passed away recently, he offered the vase in an online auction, hoping to get $800 for it. He was startled when he received a bid of $80,000. That was when he decided to contact Sotheby’s.  After consulting with our specialists, he pulled the vase from the online site and consigned it to us, almost doubling what he would have gotten for it.

The vase relates to a group of wares produced at the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province during the early years of Jiaqing’s reign (1796-1820). The vase is brightly enameled with a scene of boys at play and is filled with symbolic meaning. Prices for Qing imperial porcelains have continued to hold strong, and now Republican period porcelains are also increasing in value.
If you suspect you have something of value, it never hurts to have it checked out. Chances are you will have what you paid for, but because of the rapid changes in the Chinese art market you never know. Like the vase filled with sand and used as a doorstop, or the chairs used by a church congregation, you might have an undiscovered treasure on your hands. Just like winning the lottery, it has to happen to someone, and that someone could be you.