Bought at a junk sale, this ceramic bowl could now sell for up to R7.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction

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An exceptional and rare blue and white 'floral' bowl from the Ming dynasty, Yongle period. (Sotheby's)
An exceptional and rare blue and white 'floral' bowl from the Ming dynasty, Yongle period. (Sotheby's)
  • A frequent flea marketer bought a ceramic bowl from a junk sale for only $35. 
  • Feeling it was special, the buyer showed it to auction house Sotheby’s to learn more. 
  • As it turns out, the bowl is a rare example of Ming Dynasty porcelain. 


From 11 to 24 March 2021, New York will be home to Sotheby’s Asia Week. During this period a diverse array of Asian art and artefacts, spanning a 4000 year period, will be on sale at the auction house. 

In these two weeks, more than 190 objects will be on sale and of them is an exceptionally rare blue and white ‘floral’ bowl from the Ming dynasty’s Yongle period. 

Although Sotheby’s is minimalistic in the floral bowl’s provenance, choosing only to say it is from an “American collection, acquired in Connecticut”, the object’s most recent home is more domestic than the others. 

According to Artnet, an unnamed but “keen-eyed” flea market shopper bought the blue and white fine china piece at a flea market for a humble $35 that doesn’t compare to the $500 000 price tag that the object could fetch for at Asia Week. 

Explaining why he chose to take the bowl to Sotheby’s after he bought it, the consignor told the auction house that he had an inkling that there was something special about his purchase. 

Produced during the 15 century Yongle period, the 16cm diameter bowl is set to go for half a million dollars because it is one of six pieces of a set known to exist. Even though there are a half a dozen of them, it is the only one to go on sale because the other five pieces are respectively owned by Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Museum, Taipei’s National Palace Museum and Iran’s National Museum, forming a part of the institutions’s famous collections. 

To describe the object in essay for the Sotheby’s catalogue, specialist in Far Eastern ceramics Regina Krahl wrote the following:

“ In every respect, this delicate bowl is a quintessential Yongle product, made for the court, showing the striking combination of superb material and painting with a slightly exotic design that characterizes imperial porcelain of this period.”

The bowl will be auctioned on 17 March 2021. 

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