Thrifting has become a big business where resellers can often turn a little profit on inexpensive but good quality shirts, dresses, ceramics, and other household items.
But all bargain hunters and collectors hope to find that big jackpot – that unexpected item that turns out to be a rare, valued treasure. This is exactly what happened when a pair of ceramic containers turned out to be Qing dynasty jars worth tens of thousands of dollars.
The Qing dynasty jars were part of a batch of ceramics from a London thrift store. The whole batch initially sold for £20 ($25) and were bought by a passionate collector of ceramic objects.
After seeing the items in a thrift store last year, they bought the ceramics without even knowing their value. However, the collector found an inscription – Qianlong – on a label at the base of one of the jars and did some research. Only then did they realize the potential significance of the porcelain.
Qianlong was the fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty who reigned for six decades. Two jars had bases stamped with the six-character seal, and the collectors brought these to Roseberys auction house in London for inspection.
After confirming that these were, in fact, Qing dynasty jars, the items eventually fetched £59,800 ($74,500) at an auction on May 16. The sale was part of a “Chinese, Japanese & South East Asian Art: Day One” event at the auction house.
The two imperial Chinese doucai “lotus and chrysanthemum” jars were produced in the 18th century. Doucai is a porcelain painting technique used in the earlier Ming dynasty where designs are outlined in blue before being glazed.
Bill Forrest, associate director and head of Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian art at Roseberys, described the attraction for the Qing dynasty jars.
Forrest said, “I think anyone who is in the presence of imperial Chinese porcelain, regardless of their experience, will feel drawn to them on some level. They definitely have a presence that’s hard to explain.
“A really good piece of imperial porcelain is so well manufactured, so well produced with such skill and care, that they kind of exude a presence that is kind of very difficult to explain,” he added further.
The delicately painted Qing dynasty jars measure 11.5-centimeters (4.5-inches) and were described on the auction house’s website as being “finely painted in underglaze blue and enameled in iron-red, yellow, and green enamels with roundels of chrysanthemum flower heads, interspersed with leafy lotus meanders.
“As often the case with doucai-enamelled Imperial porcelain of the 18th century, the design of the present lot is inspired by a Chenghua prototype, such as the jar with butterflies and chrysanthemum roundels in the Qing Court Collection.”
There is no prototype for the particular design on these Qing dynasty jars, but the pattern is recognized on bowls that were excavated from Ming imperial kilns. These Chinese imperial porcelain jars are quite rare since they were only commissioned for the Imperial Court.
Forrest added, “My heart sinks when I read of Chinese objects being sold through charity chops for a mere pittance.” However, he acknowledged that Chinese porcelain is a very specialized field and, given the donations charities receive, charity workers can be forgiven for overlooking them.
Furthermore, the seller aimed to donate a portion of the profits to the charity that owned the thrift store, although no exact sum was indicated.
Jars with the same design have been sold in past auctions. A pair accompanied with their lids sold at Sotheby’s London for £277,200 (about $347,000) in November 2021.
Be sure to keep a lookout for old ceramics while browsing through thrift stores and attending garage sales. You never know if they could potentially turn out to be valuable hidden treasures!