Are you downsizing? Be careful!

I’m in a process of downsizing. You know how this goes. You have it in your head that, if you haven’t opened that box of stuff for a couple years, you don’t need it and you won’t miss it. Right?

I read this at BBC:

An 18th Century Chinese vase, left for decades in a shoebox in France, has sold for 16.2m euros (£14.2m).

The vase was auctioned at Sotheby’s in Paris on Tuesday and sold for more than 20 times its estimated guide price – 500,000 to 700,000 euros.

It’s the highest price ever reached for a single item sold by Sotheby’s in France.

The vase formed part of a family inheritance and was recently discovered in an attic.

Sotheby’s Asian arts expert, Olivier Valmier, said the seller “took the train, then the metro and walked on foot through the doors of Sotheby’s and into my office with the vase in a shoebox protected by newspaper.

“When she put the box on my desk and we opened it, we were all stunned by the beauty of the piece.

“This is a major work of art,” Valmier continued. “It is as if we had just discovered a Caravaggio.”

The 30 cm, bulb-shaped vase, painted in shades of green, blue, yellow and purple, was described as an exceptionally well-preserved porcelain vessel made for an emperor of the Qing dynasty.

It depicts deer, birds and other animals in a wood and includes gold embroidery around its neck. The vase bears a mark of the Qianlong Emperor who ruled China from 1736 to 1795.

The vase, which was in perfect condition, “is the only known example in the world bearing such detail,” said Valmier.

“We didn’t like the vase too much, and my grandparents didn’t like it either,” said the owner of the piece, who only got in touch with Sotheby’s in March.

A Sotheby’s spokeswoman said: “They knew it had some value but nothing like that, nor that it was from the Qian dynasty.”

The auction lasted some 20 minutes, a long time by usual standards, with multiple bidders battling for the vase.

Sotheby’s has not revealed the name or nationality of the Asian buyer.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. benedetta says:

    Literally in the midst of active downsizing. Moved from a large house to a small apartment yesterday. Unpacking boxes that were in basement and not touched in years…so far no rare million dollar Chinese vases.

  2. Cafea Fruor says:

    This reminds me of those times on Antiques Roadshow when some woman comes in with an item that she found at a garage sale for maybe $3.50. She might say, “Well, dear husband keeps telling me to stop going to yard sales, but I just had to get this piece because it was oh so pretty, and he was furious with me.” Dear husband is standing there on the side, rolling his eyes. And then the appraiser announces that the item’s really worth maybe $100K, and the husband just says, “Well, I guess I can’t complain about garage sales anymore…” :-)

  3. Malta says:

    My story is not as phenomenal, but I walked into Goodwill here in Santa Fe, bought a Robert Stivers photograph for $5.99, I drove up the street to Stephen’s Consignment, where they listed it for $2,900.

    My friend, who makes over $100,000 selling on ebay, found a Tiffany lamp for around $5, and sold it for $17,000 (it was missing a piece of glass, otherwise it would have gone for a lot more). There is crazy money to be made in stuff!

  4. Emilio says:

    When downsizing not long ago after losing my job, nothing hurt more than having to rid myself of 95% of my personal library, accumulated after 25 years or so. The sacrifice was lessened a great deal by a “reform of the reform” parish run by orthodox Dominicans, and full of young professionals, agreeing to accept my extremely large book donation for their parish library. It makes me happy that other fellow Catholics, especially youth, might enjoy and benefit from everything I did from them, especially all the books about the Liturgy I owned. The experience has also made me wary of accumulating so much “stuff” in the present and future, and has given me an appreciation for living more simply and with less.

  5. iamlucky13 says:

    A few weeks ago, a priest worked into a homily a similar story about the sculpture Young Archer, believed to have been made by Michelangelo when he was still an apprentice. It was displayed in plain site in a French embassy office in downtown NYC for decades, with little notice until a curator for the Metropolitan Museum noticed it had similarities to other works he was familiar with. A bit more about it here:

    The homily was for Pentacost, if I remember right, and he talked about faith as a matter of learning about something you suspect might be true, and ultimately committing to a decision to believe it, despite the risks it might entail. Like the art scholar who risked his career to advocate the evidence he had that the sculpture was the work of Michelangelo, the disciples risk as much and even more in their commitment to believe they had seen Jesus raised from the dead.

    Anyways, great story about the vase, and a nice reminder about one of the better homilies I’ve heard recently.

  6. Simon_GNR says:

    I’m pretty sure we don’t have any antiques lurking in the loft – shame. Good luck to the lady with the vase though. It’d be interesting to learn what provenance the piece had – how it came to be in the family’s possession.

  7. Charivari Rob says:

    You’re downsizing again, Father? You did that just a couple of years ago and had to pare down from “cottage” to “boiler room”, if I recall correctly. You can’t have too much left to chop.

    What’s next size down from boiler room, anyway – post office box? Crypt? Reliquary?

  8. Cafea Fruor says:

    @Charivari Rob: If the choice were up to me, I’d go for the reliquary – you could always say, “It’s not a big place, but it sure has good bones.” ;-)

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