A UNIQUE Chinese vase left on a shelf in a room where the owners' dogs slept became the most expensive work of art ever sold by a British provincial auctioneer when it fetched £3 million last week.
A specialist from Woolley & Wallis, based in Salisbury, discovered the Alexander Vase, which had been bought by an ancestor of the owners for £10 in 1900, during a routine insurance valuation.
The anonymous vendors, who live in Wiltshire, were surprised when John Axford told them that the blue and white vase might be very valuable. It was then found to be the only surviving unbroken Yuan dynasty vase of its type.
Mr Axford, who had been asked to value the contents of the house for insurance purposes, said: "I knew it was an early Chinese vase but I did not realise that it was a Yuan dynasty piece until we were able to compare it with other pieces of Yuan porcelain. It is in perfect condition and just needed a wash."
He discovered that the 19ins high vase dates from about 1350, a time when the Black Death was ravaging Europe and Marco Polo was exploring Asia. The vase's history for its first 550 years is unknown, but it was bought by William Alexander, a noted connoisseur in his day who kept meticulous notes of his purchases, on May 23, 1900.
His eye for quality provided his descendants with a fortune 105 years later. Incredibly, the vase survived being left on a low shelf in the dogs’ room, within range of the wagging tails of the family pets!