Only six similar archaic vessels, or ying, are known to exist. The discovery, a seventh with previously unrecorded decoration, will be sold by the Canterbury Auction Galleries on April 11, estimated at £120,000-200,000.
Dating from the period 1027-771BC (the pottery core of the handle and one foot have been subjected to a thermo-luminescence test in Oxford), the vessel has been christened ‘the tiger ying’ – a reference to the auspicious felines that adorn the spout and cover.
It was found by Alastair Gibson, London dealer and the Canterbury saleroom’s Asian art consultant, together with three Qing bronzes and an archive of letters and photographs relating the military history of the Evans family of Monmouthshire.
Surviving letters from its erstwhile owner, Royal Marines Captain Harry Lewis Evans (1831-83), give a vivid account of the Second Opium War. He took part in the capture of Canton in 1857, and the failed attack on the Taku Forts in 1859. In a letter dated October 17, 1860, he recorded in detail the infamous looting of the Yuanming Yuan, or Old Summer Palace.
“The General sent out for all the carts he could find, brought in as much as they could carry, and all the things were sold by auction for prize money for the force. I expect to get about five and forty pounds for my share.
“I succeeded in getting several bronzes and enamel vases as well as some very fine porcelain cups and saucers of the Emperor’s imperial pattern, but they are so dreadfully brittle that I quite despair ever being able to get them home in their present condition.”