The lucky shopper, unaware of its significance, listed the small yellow vase on eBay - only to be inundated with messages and bids. Realising it must be valuable, he removed it from the site and took it to specialists at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers' in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex. They studied the 8ins tall vase and identified it as being Chinese imperial and made for the Qianlong Emperor, who reigned from 1735 to 1796. The Qianlong famille rose vase is marked with a symbol that meant it wasn't for export, but for one of the emperor's palaces. It is inscribed with an imperial poem that 'praises incense' and two iron-red seal marks that read 'Qianlong chen han' or 'the Qianlong Emperor's own mark'. It also reads 'Weijing weiyi' which translates to 'be precise, be undivided'.
The pear-shaped vase is designed to be attached to a wall, with a flat back and floral decoration on the front. Its yellow colour is significant as this was a special colour reserved for the emperor. The unnamed buyer spotted it on sale for £1 in a charity shop in Hertfordshire and picked it up as 'he liked the look of it'.
The successful Chinese buyer bid a hammer price of £380,000, with extra fees taking the overall figure paid to £484,000
Yexue Li, head of the Asian art department at Sworders, said: "The gentleman vendor was in the charity shop and picked out the vase because he liked the look of it. He was unaware of his significance so he put it on eBay with a very low starting price to begin with and there was a lot of interest. He decided to take the vase off eBay and bought it in to us to take a look. He was shocked and very excited when we explained its importance. The vase is special because it comes with the inscription by the Qianlong Emperor, and he must have commissioned this vase. The enamel on the vase is special because it uses yangcai (foreign) enamels on a yellow ground - a special colour traditionally reserved for the emperor. It's a high quality vase because it was court commissioned, so it would have been of a high value when it was made.”
"This has been the perfect auction story, a bargain find, a culturally important and beautiful work of art and a life changing sum of money for the vendor. He is understandably ecstatic."
The Qianlong Emperor was the sixth emperor of the Qing dynasty. He abdicated in favour of his son, the Jiaqing Emperor, and died three years later aged 87 in 1799.
For more information please contact Yexue Li
firstname.lastname@example.org | 01279 817778