A speculative £15 ($20) bid in an online antiques sale turned out to be a major discovery, ending up as a star lot at auction last month when the early porcelain teapot soared to 575,000 pounds with fees (about $806,000) as the winning bid for an American museum.
The 2016 web find was consigned to Salisbury, UK-based Woolley & Wallis auctioneers where the piece was extensively researched. Specialists found it to be an important and previously unrecorded American porcelain teapot attributed to John Bartlam (Cain Hoy, South Carolina), c.1765-69. One side, printed in underglaze blue, depicts two cranes beneath a tall palm tree beside figures in a sampan and a solitary figure in another boat, the reverse with a version of the Man on the Bridge pattern.
The John Bartlam teapot caught the imagination of many, according to Woolley's, and as its lot number drew near, the atmosphere in the auction room on Feb. 20 became increasingly tense. You can watch the sale of the teapot on YouTube.
The piece ultimately found a new home at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art through London dealer Rod Jellicoe, who topped the stakes at £460,000 (hammer price) against an American private collector on the telephone. Met curator Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen told the New York Times, "It's extraordinarily important for many, many reasons."
Missing a lid and with some repairs, the teapot is nevertheless a rare discovery, becoming only the seventh recorded piece of John Bartlam's porcelain, relating to a group of wares sold at auction in 2002. It was made with local clays, and possibly, represents the oldest known American-made porcelain teapot.