A piece in the Wall Street Journal caught Karen Davidson’s eye in 2011. “Chinese items are setting new records nearly every week,” it claimed. Pictured was a 13th century BC Shang Dynasty vessel that sold for a breathtaking $410,500, more than three times its original estimate.

Davidson did a double take — the item looked a lot like one she had. “My late husband and I bought a house in Bloomfield Hills,” she told appraiser Brian Thomczek at a recent appraisal session at Troy’s Michigan Design Center. “We bought the house and tore it down. The title on the house had been in the name of a Chinese company.”

The item, a bronze bowl with ornate carvings on the sides, was left in the house. Davidson didn’t think much about it until she saw the Wall Street Journal piece and began wondering about what she had.

Thomczek identified it as a Chinese vessel, one “that was probably used to serve some sort of food,” he explained. “There were even smaller ones than these, but they were usually used for wine.”

Hers, he said, measures 13 inches in diameter by 5 ½ inches high. It weights more than 13 lbs., she told him. “It’s definitely Chinese and it definitely has age,” he told her.

Unfortunately, just not enough. “I did quite a bit of research ahead of time on this when I saw your email, but I just don’t think what you have is indeed Shang, although the piece in the Wall Street Journal may have been,” he told her. “I think your piece probably dates to the 19th century and may have been done in a similar style as an homage to the dynasty, probably made as a decorative piece.”

He says that her work is similar to Shang, but also resembles that of the Zhou Dynasty, which followed some similar design styles and materials. “The arts of the early Xi Zhou were essentially a continuation of those of the Shang dynasty,” according to “That was especially true of works in bronze, in which there was an accelerated deterioration of the variety of shapes, the decoration, and the craftsmanship of casting.” Similar pieces can be found on sites such as 1st Dibs. “Unfortunately there are no marks on this,” he told her. “If there were some it would give me something to go on.”

If he were to auction her piece, he said he would call it “Shang or Zhou-style vessel,” and give it an estimate of $700 to $900. “I’d probably start bidding at $500, and think you could reasonably expect to get somewhere around there depending on who was at the auction that day,” he told her. “This is old, but not old old old, like the piece you saw in the Wall Street Journal.”

Davidson said she will probably pass it down. “I’m in the de-accessioning part of my life,” she explained. “I want to get rid of stuff. I have a daughter who kind of fancies it.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item: Chinese bronze vessel

Owned by: Karen Davidson

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek

Estimated value: $500 and up

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