Finding Treasure

PEOPLE are scouring their attics and garages for a masterpiece after a drab and dirty portrait found languishing in a museum storeroom turned out to be by the 17th century Flemish master, Van Dyck.

Bowes Museum in County Durham now has the pleasant task of working out what to do with its £3,000 non-entity which is now said to be worth a not too shabby £1 million.

The fact that it lay tucked away for decades is the sort of undiscovered treasure story that people love and there have been some great finds to excite them.

Back in 1990 a painting entitled The Taking of Christ bought for barely £500 and which hung in a Dublin Jesuit residence for more than 60 years was identified as a Caravaggio worth more than £10 million.

A simple porcelain bowl found by an antiques expert in someone’s kitchen turned out to be a 14th-Century Ming dish worth nearly £200,000.

And spare a thought for the man whose wife told him that the small object he’d just found among a load of hedge clippings in his garden was probably a tacky item from a Christmas cracker…only for the BBC’s famous Antiques Roadshow programme to gently break the news to him that it was an 8th Century Anglo Saxon ring worth £10,000.

A battered piece of furniture turned out to be a 10th Century apothecary’s table worth £200,000 but not every story has a happy ending.

One man who brought in the latest purchase for his collection, a £1,000 piece of glass, was told that it was actually a worthless 2008 empty olive oil bottle from Tesco!

Two of my favourites are the Lalique vase bought at a car boot for £1 which was sold at auction for more than £32,000 and the delightful yarn of a woman who loved jewellery.

She brought along a bag full of the stuff to the Antiques Roadshow that she’d bought for £30 and she was staggered when the expert began taking out each brooch and valuing them at between £125-£150. She stopped being staggered and was just left speechless when the expert finally found a genuine pink Faberge brooch and told her it was worth £10,000.

Often valuable finds seem to have been hidden in plain sight and a nice planter discovered in a Dorset garden turned out to be a Roman coffin. It was later sold for £96,000.

But all these tales of treasure have to have a crowning glory moment and that belongs firmly to a nice Chinese porcelain vase stored on top of a wobbly bookcase in an undistinguished semi-detached house in London.

It was actually insured for £800 but, when it was put up for sale after the house was cleared, the auctioneer’s hammer finally came down when bidding for the masterpiece reached £53.1 million! Apparently the owners were in such a state of shock that they had to be helped from the sale room.

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