Man Makes a Killing Selling a $20 Teapot to the Met for $640,000

(Image via Woolley & Wallis)

Time to raid your grandparents’ attic, peruse antique stores, and dig through trash bins outside of really old houses. If you’re willing to take the time and spend some cash on things that look like antiques, you might win the lottery, so to speak. A recent example of turning a cheap find into a fortune is a man in England who recently sold a $20 teapot he bought at an antique fair for £460,000 ($640,670 US).


It should be pointed out that the man is an antique collector, but stories still abound about normal people finding something that ended up having substantial value. My own dad once bought an old Bible in a New England antique store for two dollars, only to later discover that it was worth several thousand dollars.

To be fair, the antique collector, whose name has not been revealed, wasn’t aware of the teapot’s value when he purchased it.

Believing that he could make a little money off the obviously old teapot, the man took his find to a local auction house only to receive the good news.

The teapot hadn’t even originated in England. To the collector’s surprise, he was told by a specialist at the auction house of Woolley & Wallis that it was made in 1760 by the first American porcelain factory. The factory, which was owned and operated by the famed John Bartlett, was located in South Carolina. Speaking to artnet news, spokesperson for Woolley & Wallis Tamzin Corbett explained that the teapot is “only the seventh known piece from this pottery that’s been discovered and although it’s not whole, it is still recognizable as an object.”

Artnet News reveals why the purchase price for the teapot reached such an extravagant amount:

Explaining the huge price tag, Jellicoe told artnet News that the vessel has an important link to early American history that made it particularly desirable to American collectors and institutions. “Just before the Revolutionary War, there was a non-importation agreement in place because the colonies didn’t want to import anything from England,” he explained. “And, of course, if they could make their own porcelain, they didn’t need to import it from England, so it was a way of being independent from the British.” As a result, he said, “There was great interest in the piece because it’s so rare, and the Americans thought it shouldn’t be over here [in England].”


The bidding began at $10,000 but soon took off. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art was eventually able to secure the teapot, but not after some intense bidding. “In the salesroom, London dealer Rod Jellicoe, who was bidding on behalf of the Met, fended off a persistent American private collector on the phone as the price reached stratospheric heights. When the hammer finally came down, the price had reached 23 times its pre-sale high estimate of £20,000 ($28,000).”

This story not only serves as an inducement for amateur antique collectors to look even harder for the next valuable find, but also serves to demonstrate that an object is as valuable as people are willing to pay for it.




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