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A French woman was clearing out her attic when she found an 18th-century Chinese vase, stored away in an ordinary shoe box which had been there for several decades. She had a feeling it could be worth something but had no idea of the riches the vase would attract. This is the kind of story that makes people want to head up into the attic right away, thinking there could be untold numbers of precious items hidden away in all that dust.

Sotheby’s auction the Chinese vase

As reported by The Guardian, the Paris branch of Sotheby’s placed the Chinese vase on sale with the expectation of getting the former owner something between 500,000 to 700,000 euros.

Even they were stunned when the buyer bid a massive £14.3 million (16.2 million euros) for what turned out to be a Qing dynasty vase. As pointed out by the BBC, that figure was more than 20 times the price they had estimated for its sale. It is also the highest price Sotheby’s in France had ever reached.

Treasure found in the attic

It turns out the Chinese vase was part of the owner’s family inheritance. According to Euronews, there were many antiques stored up in the attic. The vase was described as being 30 cm in height, made of beautifully preserved porcelain and decorated in shades of blue, green, purple and yellow. Sotheby’s claim the vase had been made for Qianlong, one the emperors of China’s Qing dynasty – China's equivalent of royalty – who had ruled China between 1736 and 1795.

As can be seen from the video below, the Chinese vase was decorated with deer and birds, along with other animals in a forest.

The neck of the vase was decorated with gold embroidery.

Olivier Valmier, the Asian arts expert for Sotheby’s in Paris, explained that the seller didn’t even drive to their premises. The unnamed lady had taken a train, then had used the metro and eventually walked through their doors on foot. She took the shoe box to Valmier’s office, which he found contained the vase, carefully wrapped in newspaper.

He went on to say that when the unnamed lady placed the shoe box on his desk and he and his staff opened it, they were completely stunned by the beauty of the vase. Valmier said it was a “major work of art, going on to say it was as if they had suddenly discovered a Caravaggio. He continued by saying that with its perfect condition, the vase is the only one of its kind in the world that bears so much detail.

The auction lasted an unusually long 20 minutes, with several bidders trying to get the vase. It was finally taken by an Asian buyer, whose name and actual nationality was not reported.

Former owners didn’t like the Chinese vase

The owner of the vase explained that her family didn’t like the vase and that her grandparents also weren’t partial to it. She had initially contacted Sotheby’s in March to tell them about the Chinese vase. A spokeswoman from the auction house explained that the woman’s family knew the vase had some value. It turns out she had no idea just how much value, and that the piece dated back to the Qing dynasty.