A Ticket Without Numbers

A Ticket Without Numbers

May 13th 2020

In everyday life people buy and sell items and its fair to say without it we wouldn’t be able to survive. In the antiques trade this is the bread and butter of everyone’s business but how likely is winning the lottery? Well statistically you have around a 1 in 45 million chance, yes you are right it probably isn’t worth walking to the bookies for. Now lets  compared those odds to a 1 in 15 million chance of having identical quadruplets or a 1 in 10 million chance of being struck by lightning, whilst those odds are far better I still agree that the odds seem very farfetched, however people are winning the antique “lottery” with unknown finds or family heirlooms more often than you would think.

Whilst I may have thrown you off track with what you have perceived as winning the lottery all will make sense below! I seem to be reading more and more regularly that people are buying objects from charity shops, finding them in skips or drawers and with little known value or heavily under estimated, get them appraised and they go onto sell for tens if not hundreds of thousands. In actual fact this may not be a “lottery win”, but it’s the jackpot of the antiques trade and thus comparable. Let’s be honest it certainly is the only job in the world where you can discover something in a skip unknown to everyone and with no value, which turns out to be a true part of history.

I wanted to share some of the extraordinary items that have been head turners in the last decade or so. Items which behold such rarity or hidden value that have subsequently gone on to make the big bucks at auction. Unintentionally making the vendor a pretty penny or two with their very own “winning lottery ticket”.


The 5 Figure Broken Teapot

Let’s start with one of my personal favourites; the unbelievably rare broken teapot thought to be one of 7 known pieces of Bartlam pottery and the first American-manufactured teapot to have been discovered. What makes this piece even more exciting is the fact it was purchased by the vendor for £15 at a local auction in the midlands in 2016 with substantial damage and without the lid. After extensive researched it appeared it was £15 well spent after reaching £575’000 at Woolley and Wallis! The piece was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where it now resides.

John Bartlam was a Staffordshire potter who left England in around 1763 after realising how cost effective it would be to set up a manufacturing business directly in America rather than exporting his goods. Following his arrival, he became the first known manufacturer of American porcelain.

Credit: Wooley And Wallis Auction House woolleyandwallis.co.uk


The “Tenner” Diamond

Second on the extraordinary list is the 26.27 carat diamond bought at a car boot sale. Yes, you did read correctly and I haven’t gone mad (yet). The 26.27 carat diamond was bought at a car boot in the 1980’s as what was believed to be costume jewellery due to its size and lack of “brilliance”. The owner is said to have worn it daily as it was a “good looking ring” but had no idea of its true value until they were advised by a local jeweller that it was a in actual fact a real diamond after getting it tested by Gemological Institute of America (GIA).

After this news the vendor decided to take a trip to Sotheby’s to see if the Jewellers statement could in fact be true. After a consultation with Sotheby’s finest experts an estimation of around £350’000 was put on the diamond with it being offered to auction on the 7th July 2019 in Sotheby London’s Fine Jewels sale. It was advised that the colour and lack of brilliance was due to the 19th century cut of the diamond giving a “duller and deeper” look tricking the vendor into believing it was costume jewellery compared to today’s modern brilliant cut designed to show the sparkle of the stone.

After a strong bidding war the diamond ended up selling for £656’750 nearly twice the original estimate. Definitely a lottery win in my eyes!

Showcasing the size of the tenner diamond bought at a car boot

Credit: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images


The Tennis Ball Bowl

Third on the list is takes us to the oriental market. It was a tough one to choose from as the oriental market always seems to have big surprises but I couldn’t shy away from what was described as a bronze bowl being used to store tennis balls.

This story is one that amazes me every time I read it and for more reasons that the value. The vendor of this extraordinary bowl was a swiss family who appeared to of had some kickbacks with the piece. Originally the piece is believed to have been brought back from China during a leisure trip and then owned by the same family through descent. It has been mentioned that they had sent multiple images to leading auction houses in the UK and to a museum in Berlin both of which rejected the piece. The family then decided that the piece couldn’t be worth much but like it nevertheless so displayed it within their house. As with many household items it began to be used for storage. One would agree the shape and material of the bowl would lend its hand to tennis balls. Further on down the timeline Koller Auctions (Zurich, Switzerland) acquired the bowl and witch extensive research and a exhibition at the antiques fair in Hong Kong the bronze bowl was later described as an incense burner or more commonly a bronze censer and believed to be from the 17th century also known as early Qing period.  The bowl went on to sell for 4.9 MILLION dollars! Unfortunately it is unclear as to the original cost but I dare say that the original vendor did not pay anywhere near that amount! JACKPOT

Credit: Koller Auctions Zurich kollerauktionen.ch


I think it’s fair to say that comparing these above items to winning the lottery is a fine comparison. Some would say that the value is much higher in the resurrection of history that has been unearthed with such significant items. Most interesting is that the 2 out of the 3 were owned and purchased originally by members of the public which had absolutely no idea of the values at all. The thrill of owning such pieces is clear to each and every story and I think not knowing the value makes it even more special. Just imagine wearing a 26 carat diamond every day believing it to be costume jewellery, personally I don’t like having my phone out of its case!

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