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Rare Ming Dynasty artefact found in private home is to go for auction

A significant artefact of the Chinese Ming Dynasty will be put up for auction in London after spending almost eight decades in private hands. 

The artefact in question is a decorative box that is believed to be part of a five-piece set of such items designed specifically for Emperor Xuande; the pieces all bear his reign’s characters etched at the bottom of the box and inside the lid. 

This box previously belonged to Major Edward Coplestone Radcliffe, a World War II veteran, who purchased it at an auction in London in 1946, shortly after the war had ended. 

The Major had lent it to the National Gallery of South Africa’s Chinese Exhibition, but after he died in 1967, the piece sat in a storage cupboard in the attic of the Coplestone Radcliffe family home until his descendants discovered it. 

At first, auction house Dreweatts priced it with the idea that the box was created in the 17th century, something that, after careful analysis by the firm’s experts, was revised, given that Emperor Xuande reigned between 1426 and 1435. 

Mark Newstead, the director of Asian Ceramics and Works of Art at the auction house, told news outlets: “This initial estimate was based on it being from the 17th century, but it is now looking extremely modest, and it’s thought it could achieve much more, even in its slightly damaged condition.”

Dr Yingwen Tao, another Chinese and Asian art expert of the auction house, said: “There is every indication that all five [boxes] were made in the same imperial workshop, for the Emperor, as crucially, all are doubly marked with an incised Xuande six-character reign mark on the underside of the box and the interior of the cover.”

This in itself is extremely rare, as usually, such artefacts would not bear any indications of the manufacturer, even less the recipient. 

The box, which depicts flowers, pomegranates and golden branches on an aqua/turquoise background, is set to go up for auction next month and is expected to fetch the equivalent of about 10,000 USD. 

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