A Late Tang Dynasty Sculpture Bought at a Missouri Garage Sale for Less Than $100 Just Sold for $2.1 Million

The owner first suspected the bronze deity might be worth more than she paid for after taking it on the 'Antiques Roadshow.'

At Sotheby’s New York auction of Important Chinese Art, this gilt-bronze figure of the Chinese Buddhist deity Cintamanicakra Avalokiteshvara dating to the late Tang Dynasty sold for $2.1 million. It was originally bought for just $100 at a garage sale. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.
This gilt-bronze figure of the Chinese Buddhist deity Cintamanicakra Avalokiteshvara, dating to the late Tang Dynasty, sold for $2.1 million. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

When a woman picked up a Buddhist sculpture at a garage sale in Missouri for less than $100 she had no idea what she was buying until she took it on the Antiques Roadshow in St. Louis some 20 years later.

“It’s likely that the quality would indicate that it’s an imperial piece,” Roadshow expert Robert Waterhouse told her. “A very conservative retail price would be $100,000–125,000.”

But the gilt-bronze figure of a Chinese Buddhist deity from the late Tang Dynasty sold at Sotheby’s New York this week for a full $2.1 million.

The owner responded in disbelief. She recalled buying the work at a garage sale at the home of Trezevant Branam Winfrey, a Kirkwood, Missouri, collector who died in 1999.

“The dealers had been there for two days before, so I thought that everything good would be gone, but when I saw this I thought it was so beautiful, I just grabbed it,” the owner said during her television appearance, admitting she almost skipped the errand because she was hosting 15 friends for lunch that afternoon.

Newly identified as a valuable antiquity, the sculpture headed to Sotheby’s, where it incited a seven-minute bidding battle at Wednesday’s “Important Chinese Art” sale, charging past the pre-sale estimate of $60,000–80,000. The final purchase price is roughly 20,000 times what the lucky owner initially paid.

The statue depicts the god Cintamanicakra Avalokiteshvara, a rare form of one of Chinese Buddhism’s most important and widely worshiped deities. The six-armed figure holds various symbolic objects, including a dharma wheel, a lotus stem, and a cintamani wish-granting jewel.

An Exceedingly Rare and Important Complete Set of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment by the Qianlong Emperor, which sold at Sotheby's "Important Chinese Art" auction for $2.7 million on a high estimate of just $500,000. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

A complete set of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment by the Qianlong Emperor, which sold at Sotheby’s “Important Chinese Art” auction for $2.7 million on a high estimate of just $500,000. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The piece is one of the highlights of this week’s Asia Week auctions, which run through March 24. Other top lots from the Chinese sale include a rare complete set of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment by the Qianlong Emperor, which sold for $2.7 million on a high estimate of just $500,000, and the $2.1 million Rare White Jade ‘Imperial Procession’ Brushpot, one of a sold-out group of jade carvings from the Art Institute of Chicago that collectively fetched $3.2 million.


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