The 8ft (2.44m) high Meiji vase had been deemed lost for over a century. It had however, been quietly residing in the main dining room at one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s oldest restaurants, Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley.
The vase had been acquired by proprietor Frank Spenger at the California Midwinter Fair in 1894. It was offered for sale at Clars Auction Gallery of Oakland, California, on February 17 with an estimate of $30,000- 50,000. It had several areas of damage but attracted multiple bidders before selling to a private buyer in New York.
The details of the commission of two huge vases and a censer for Japan’s stand at the Chicago expo are well known. Working to designs by the Nihonga artist Araki Kampo, a team of craftsmen under Shirozayemon Suzuki of Yokohama and Seizayemon Tsunekawa of Nagoya took over four years to complete the project.
At the time they were the biggest pieces of cloisonné yet made. The censer resides in the collection of Hirose Atsushi at the Tokyo National Museum while the other vase is part of the Khalili collection in Oxford.
Ring’s royal link
Many of the top lots in the sale came from the Spenger family including a 34.28ct fancy light yellow diamond sold at $450,000 (£346,000).
The old-mine-cut stone – carried by Frank Spenger in a specially tailored pocket to show to his patrons – is thought to have been bought by King Kalakaua of Hawaii for his wife Queen Kapiolani to wear at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887.