Bargain hunter paid $20 for old South Carolina teapot. It just sold for $806,000.

The world’s most expensive teapot.
The world’s most expensive teapot.

A cracked teapot made in South Carolina before the Revolutionary War stunned the auction world days ago by selling in England for an astounding $806,000, media outlets report.

Of that, about $520,000 was for the teapot. The rest was for fees, reported the New York Times. The winning bid on Tuesday was made by Roderick Jellicoe, a London dealer, who was acting on behalf of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, said a press release.

The final price is 23 times what the pot was expected to fetch, media outlets report. The teapot – which is 3.5 inches high and 5 inches across – is missing its lid and has an obvious repair for a cracked handle. Among the decorations is one of South Carolina’s famous palmettos, which is the official state tree.

Experts say it’s worth all the fuss, because the pot is an important and previously unrecorded piece attributed to the country’s first known porcelain manufacturer, John Bartlam, who built his first factory in Cain Hoy, S.C., in the 1760s. It marks the birth of American porcelain, reported the UK Telegraph.

The teapot is only the seventh recorded piece of Bartlam’s porcelain found to exist, said Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury, England, which handled the auction. The other six pieces are all in the United States, held in private collections and museums, reports AntiqueCollector.com.

An eagle-eyed antiques enthusiast bought the teapot two years ago in England for only $20 (or 15 pounds British money), media outlets report. The buyer had no idea of its value at the time, said the auction house. It was purchased in an online bid at an antiques auction in Lincolnshire, England, reported the New York Times.

“If it hadn’t been for that internet bid, it probably would have ended up in a bin,” Clare Durham of Woolley & Wallis told the New York Times.

The high value placed on the teapot by the Met is entirely due to the connection to American history, experts say.

“Just before the Revolutionary War, there was a non-importation agreement in place because the colonies didn’t want to import anything from England,” winning bidder Rod Jellicoe told ArtNet.com. “And, of course, if they could make their own porcelain, they didn’t need to import it from England, so it was a way of being independent from the British.”

Little is known of Bartlam before he moved from England to Charleston, S.C., around 1763, “possibly in some debt,” reports Woolley & Wallis. He reportedly came to the Charleston area because of rumors the clay was fitting for porcelain, according to TheBartlamBlog.com.

He established his factory in St. Thomas Parish at a settlement known in the 18th century as Cain Hoy, on the north bank of the Wando River, north of Charleston, reports the blog. “The district had a reputation for good clay sources and had a well-established brick-making industry. At least 5 brickyards were in existence by the 1760s,” the blog says.

Bartlam died in 1781, after moving his factory to Camden.