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Pedigreed Jar Brings Stratospheric Price
by Bob Brooke


Why would a museum pay $662,500 for a mottled brown, stoneware jar, originally made to store tea? Perhaps it was the objectís provenance. Perhaps it was a chance to obtain something for its collection that was very old.

The Freer Gallery of Art in Washington bought the piece at Christieís in New York last year. The pre-auction estimate was $100,000 to $150,000 because of its history and its unique packaging. Chinese potters made these types of storage jars around the beginning of the 14th century, exporting them to tea masters in Japan. Each of the jarís owners signed its base and had special boxes and silk wrappers made for it and its wooden lid.

According to Louise Cort, the museumís curator of ceramics, the jar would have been brought out for display in late fall when the dried tea harvested the previous spring would have been first used. This particular jar had been well documented by scholars since at least the 1570s. Itís rare for tea jars to have any documentation, so the extensive provenance of this jar impressed enough bidders to drive up the price. Its extensive provenance emphasizes its high status, Cort said.

The Freer Gallery is planning a special tea exhibit, featuring their newest acquisition.

Read about the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Origins of Afternoon Tea

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