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A rare vase kept in a kitchen for decades flew past its pre-sale estimate to fetch almost £1.5 million ($1.8 million) — $1 million more than expected — thanks to spirited bidding by collectors from around the world.

According to UK-based auction house Dreweatts, which sold the vase on May 18, the artifact, dating to the 18th century and made during the Qianlong period, was bought by a surgeon in the 1980s for a few hundred pounds. He later passed it down to his son who, not realizing its value, kept it in his kitchen. It was only when an antiques specialist spotted it that its true value and history was discovered. The vase had been estimated to sell for $124,000 to $186,000.

This rare Chinese vase kept in a kitchen for decades sold at Dreweatts on May 18 for $1.8 million against a pre-sale estimate of $124,000 to $186,000.

This rare vase kept in a kitchen for decades flew past its pre-sale estimate to sell for $1.8 million.

“We are delighted with this exceptional result. We saw widespread interest from China, Hong Kong, America and the UK, which resulted in very competitive bidding," said Mark Newstead, specialist consultant at Dreweatts for Asian ceramics and works of art. "The result shows the high demand for the finest porcelain produced in the world. A fabulous result and we are privileged to have sold this at Dreweatts.”

Standing at two feet tall with a distinctive palette of silver and gold against a rich blue background, the vase carries the distinguishing six-character mark of the Qianlong period (1736-1795) on its base. The style of vase is called tianqiuping, or “Celestial Sphere vase”— an allusion to Chinese mythological depictions of heaven as a globe hovering above Earth. Its color has spiritual connotations as well: the cobalt glaze is called “sacrificial blue,” based on similarly-hued containers used during sacrifices at the Imperial Altar of Heaven, according to Dreweatts.

Dreweatts said it is rare to see blue vases painted in both gilding and slightly raised silver. One of the cranes decorating it holds a fower basket, a symbol of Daoism.

Dreweatts said it is rare to see blue vases painted in both gilding and slightly raised silver. One of the cranes decorating it holds a flower basket, a symbol of Daoism.

The vase carries the distinctive six-character mark of the Qianlong period (1736-1795) on its base.

The vase has the distinctive six-character mark of the Qianlong period (1736-1795) on its base.

The auction house said it is extremely rare to see blue vases painted in both gilding and slightly raised silver, which is thought to be due to the medium being difficult to control. Such a vase would require at least three firings in the kiln for the three different glazes and enamels. First at over 1,200 degrees Celsius for the cobalt blue, then at a lower temperature for the turquoise green on the interior of the vase, finally the gold and silver enamels in a special kiln designed for enamels.

The vase also features bats and cranes, nods to the Qianlong emperor being a devout Buddhist and follower of Daoism. Each of the eight silver cranes holds an emblem for each of the eight immortals associated with Daoism including castanets, fan, flute and flower basket. The flying cranes and bats also symbolize longevity and prosperity.

One of the cranes on the vase holding a symbol of Daoism.

A closeup of another crane holding a symbol of Daoism.

Dreweatts described the vase as an "extraordinary example of imperial Qianlong porcelain," which used highly unusual enameling techniques and striking colors. 

"The exceptional quality, monumental size, and imposing presence of this vase, as well as its fine and auspicious decoration, would have rendered it suitable for prominent display in one of the halls of the Qing palace," said Dreweatts.

For more information and complete auction results, visit Dreweatts.

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