A $3 Thrift Store Vase Turns Out to Be a Japanese Cloisonné Masterpiece That Could Rake in More Than $13,000 at Auction

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A tiny vase purchased from a U.K. thrift store for £2.50 ($3.20) by an eagle-eyed couple turned out to be a rare Japanese artifact that could sell for more than £10,000 ($13,000) when it heads to auction.

A woman named Karen and her partner Ahmet (the couple has opted to remain anonymous) spotted the small cloisonné vase while out shopping. In a statement, Karen recounted Ahmet showing her the vase in the shop and she was initially “a bit dismissive” until he told her to look at the base which had etched marks.

“I always head for the books and he heads off to look for art and vintage stuff. He’s not an expert but he does have great taste and an instinct for the ‘real thing’,” she said.

Namikawa Yasuyuk tiny vase

A tiny vase made by Namikawa Yasuyuki will be sold at auction. Photo courtesy of Canterbury Auction Galleries

The couple, who lives in Epsom, went home with the vase and contacted Canterbury Auction Galleries to authenticate the work. The auction house determined the vase to be the handiwork of 19th-century cloisonné artist (and one-time samurai) Namikawa Yasuyuki.

“He was all a-quiver!” Karen said of Ahmet’s reaction.

Cliona Gibson, co-director of the auction house, called the roughly four-inch-tall vase “astonishing.”

“The exceptionally fine work and naturalistic depiction of cockerels and hens on a black background, with birds in flight overhead, was something of a trademark of his,” she said.

Yasuyuki was a samurai who began his career as a cloisonné artist around 1868, at the dawn of the Meiji era. He worked for the Kyoto Cloisonné Company from 1871 to 1874, before establishing his own studio and showing his work at international expositions. In 1896, he was appointed an imperial craftsman to the court of the Emperor Meiji and later retired in 1915.

Yasuyuki’s works, exemplars of Japanese enamel, have been collected by institutions from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art.

The vase comes up for auction online on July 29 and the couple plans to use the proceeds from the sale to go on vacation, with any remainder going to the charity that ran the thrift store.

A vase by Yasuyuki sold at a Bonhams auction in 2010 for about $105,000.

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