A cardboard box full of ancient pottery believed to be worth £30 has sold for a staggering £112,000 after it emerged that some items were rare Chinese ceramics dating back to the 16th century Ming dynasty.
The seller, a 67-year-old retired computer engineer, collected plates, bowls and plates that had been on display for 40 years at his late mother’s home in Etwall, near Derby.
He took them to his local auctioneers after she passed away last year and was completely unaware that the box contained the priceless Chinese pieces.
Once the secret was out, the collection sparked a bidding war at Hansons Auctioneers, with some lots selling for 13 times their estimated value.
The marquee lot was a set of four small Ming dynasty porcelain and dragon plates with the six character marks of the Wanli Emperor (1573-1620) that sold for £81,900 after being valued at just £6,000.
The plain antique box had been collecting dust in a Derby house for 40 years.
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, saw the potential in 16th-century Chinese loot.
An early 19th-century Imperial porcelain yellow medallion bowl sold for £14,500, while an Imperial porcelain pink medallion bowl sold for £8,800.
The seller said his mother had been given the antiques by a Rolls-Royce engineer she cared for who lived in the area.
He said he had considered taking them to a charity shop before deciding to show them to auctioneers.
He will split the proceeds from the sale between himself and his brother and sister, spending his share on a special vacation for him and his wife.
He said: ‘I thought they might get a little money, but I didn’t think they would be worth much.
“I took them to Hansons Auctioneers for appraisal and sent them up for auction expecting them to fetch £30-50.
But later I got a call from Hansons to tell me that some of the Chinese ceramics in the box were worth more.
“They planned to put them up for a different sale with estimates of £4,000-£6,000. I thought, brilliant! I was pleased with that.
‘What happened next was incredible. I watched the auction live online and the prices skyrocketed. She was yelling at the computer.
‘My sister was watching live online from Australia and we were texting each other.
“We just couldn’t believe what was happening.”
According to the seller, the fact that the dishes were so valuable was unknown to his entire family, including his mother.
He continued: ‘I grew up surrounded by plates and dishes. Mom liked to display them on the walls.
She would have had no idea that the plates were valuable.
He inherited them from a guy he helped look after many years ago in Etwall, a former Rolls-Royce engineer.
They were given as a token of gratitude.
They must have been on display in your house for 30 or 40 years.
“I had been cleaning mum’s house and had considered taking the pots to a charity shop.
‘Interestingly, the ones I thought might be valuable weren’t, but the ones I thought weren’t worth much were.
‘I’m still recovering from the excitement of it all.
‘The proceeds will be divided between me, my brother and my sister. I think I’ll treat my wife to a special vacation.
A set of four 16th-century Chinese Ming dynasty wucai porcelain dragon and phoenix plates sold for £63,000
This imperial porcelain medallion with yellow ground sold for £14,500 and dates to the 1800s.
Its pink companion also fetched a hefty price tag of £8,800
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: ‘I am absolutely delighted by this Etwall family.
‘I saw the Chinese items in a cardboard box in our showroom after one of our appraisers sent them up for auction.
They were originally intended for the Hansons monthly antiques and collectors sale, but I knew they were important.
“They were validated by consulting appraiser and Chinese ceramics expert Adam Schoon.
He said that what made the four courses that raised £63,000 particularly special was the fact that they stayed together as a set.
They may have been used as altarpieces in a Chinese monastery or temple.
They probably came to England after the First or Second World War.
‘It was an incredible find and a tremendous result.
‘It’s wonderful to discover items like this on your doorstep.
‘This local find attracted worldwide interest, ten telephone bidders and an excellent result for our client.’