When Richard Pegg picked up and handled a rare Ming Dynasty vase on display at Sotheby's in Manhattan last weekend, he had no idea that not long before it had served as a doorstop in a Long Island home.
"Given all the things that could have happened," the story is amazing, said Pegg, curator of Asian art at Chicago's MacLean Collection who served as a guest curator of a Chinese art exhibit at the Hillwood Art Museum on the Brookville campus of LIU Post.
The "rare blue and white moonflask" dating to the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty, sold at auction Wednesday for more than $1.3 million to an undisclosed international dealer.
It was sitting on a wooden stand -- "dusty and dirty" -- with the stand making it more stable, said Pegg, who was visiting Manhattan and had asked permission to handle the piece.
Members of the Long Island family whose door it held open suspected it had value earlier this year when they saw a photo of a similar vase in a Sotheby's ad, a spokesman for the auction house said.
The owners, who did not want to be identified, called Sotheby's, which sent a specialist to view the vase and "realized what it was and how special it is," the spokesman said.
The vase had been part of the family's collection for years, according to Sotheby's.
The story is "fascinating," said Beth Levinthal, executive director of the Hofstra University Museum. After viewing an online photo of the vase, she remarked on its unusual design, with two holders at the neck, and said, "it appears to be in such excellent condition, especially considering it had been used as a doorstop."
She said it's not so surprising to hear of a work of art whose value is unknown and that's been hidden in plain sight.
While it's not known whether the vase was handed down through the years, while that does happen in families, "the context of how it came into the family" may be lost and successive owners may not be aware of "the extraordinary uniqueness it might have," she said.
As far as owners are concerned, "It's not important until someone who knows what it is tells you what it is."