An elderly couple in Dorset, UK, found much to their astonishment that the umbrella stand they put in a junk room because they thought it was ugly was an Chinese imperial vase made for the Emperor Qianlong in 1740. Its estimated auction value is £500,000 ($807,000), which is more than their house and everything in it is worth.
The couple, who prefers to remain anonymous, received it as a gift 50 years ago. They had no idea that it was a rare and valuable item. Over the years it’s seen some harsh treatment. There’s a noticeable crack in it and some paint stains. In perfect condition it might have been worth twice as much.
The vase is considered top quality porcelain from the period, a period which itself is considered the Golden Age of Chinese porcelain. The artwork is a beautifully detailed landscape of wooded mountains, most likely a one-of-a-kind design. The base is marked with insignia of the Emperor Qianlong and the Chinese script at the top of the vase translates to “precious thing.”
Guy Schwinge (scha-winge!) from Duke’s, the auction house whose appraiser found the vase during a walkthrough of the vendors’ home, clearly agrees:
“Successful firing of underglaze blue and red on one object required the highest level of technical mastery.
“Different firing conditions are necessary and it is a process fraught with difficulties.
“For this reason it is a combination of colours usually reserved only for the finest imperial wares.
“Stylistically it is reminiscent of the work of Wang Hui, who produced a series of 12 monumental scrolls depicting the Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour of 1689.
“The form of the vase is that of a Chinese lantern, a style characteristic of wares from the reign of Yongzheng and the early part of the reign of Qianlong.
“This vase balances elegance of form, outstanding decoration and technical prowess, which are all characteristics of the great period of innovation in porcelain manufacture under the legendary kiln supervisor, Tang Ying.
“He was so highly regarded by the Emperor that in 1743 he was commanded to compile an illustrated book on porcelain manufacture, which is an invaluable reference for scholars.”
There’s also some vague Florence Nightingale connection that none of the articles elucidate. Duke’s wesbsite cites Florence Nightingale’s home Embley Park as the original UK source of the vase.