Ming Dynasty box that sat in an attic for decades sells for $358,000


A 15th-century Chinese box that went unnoticed for decades has sold for £288,000 (about $358,000), smashing its expected auction price.

The box was bought for just £19 ($24) in 1946 and was expected to fetch between £6,000 and £10,000 ($7,400 and $12,400) when it went under the hammer last week, stewards say -Dreweatts auctioneers.

The coin was created in the 1430s in the imperial workshops near the Forbidden City in Beijing, the auctioneers said. It bears the marks of Xuande, the fifth emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1426-1435).

It is one of only five known in the world, according to the auctioneers, based in Berkshire, southern England. Three of the five pieces are in museums or institutional collections, Dreweatts added, and one is in a private collection.

“When I first inspected the coin it seemed too good to be true as 99.9% of Xuande marked coins are later copies,” Dreweatts expert Mark Newstead said in a press release.

“This is definitely a highlight of my career, I’ll probably never see something as rare as this again, but never say never.”

The box features inscriptions of Xuande, fifth emperor of the Ming dynasty.

Circular in shape and approximately 12 centimeters (4.7 inches) in diameter, the artifact features a pattern of ripe pomegranates, golden branches and flowers. Pomegranates were a symbol of fertility in the 15th century, auctioneers have said.

It was the first time the box had been auctioned in 77 years after it was deemed lost.

It was purchased by Major Edward Copleston Radcliffe in 1946 and went unnoticed among the least valuable pieces in his collection when he died in 1967.

This is the first time the box has appeared on the market for 77 years.

However, his family later sent the collection to Dreweatts, where scholars recognized its significance.

“Cloisonne enamel pieces from the early Ming period are exceptionally rare because production was strictly regulated by imperial palace eunuchs,” Newstead said in a separate statement.

“The fact that it was discovered in a dust-filled cupboard in the attic of a family home among other less valuable rooms, where it had sat since the death of its owners (sic) in 1967 is extraordinary and we knew it would get the world – great attention.”

Newstead said the auction, which took place on Thursday, saw “very strong” bidding between nine telephone bidders, with a private collector in Asia ultimately winning.

The box's former owner, Major Edward Copleston Radcliffe.

This is not the first time that a Ming Dynasty artifact has exceeded its estimate.

In July 2020, two rare volumes of an ancient Chinese encyclopedia sold for more than 8 million euros ($9 million) at auction, more than 1,000 times the estimated price.

The encyclopedia, known as Yongle Dadian, was originally commissioned by Emperor Yongle, the third ruler of the Ming Dynasty, who reigned from 1402 to 1424.


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