During the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago, in what is now Afghanistan, an artisan from the Indus Valley (or Harappan) civilization made a ceramic pot. The four-inch-tall vessel was distinguished by a doe-eyed antelope painted across its flank. Weâ€™ll never know who used it, or for whatâ€”at least before 2013.
Thatâ€™s when Karl Martin, a valuer at Hansons Auctioneers in Derbyshire, England, purchased the pot at a car boot sale, a kind of English flea market. And why not? He got it and another pot for a total of Â£4â€”or, Â£1 for every thousand years since it had been made.
Of course Martin didnâ€™t know at the time that he was buying an authentic artifact from one of the cradles of civilization. All he knew, he said in a Hansons release, was that he â€œliked it straight away,â€ so he gave it a place of honor in his household where he would see it every day. It was in the bathroom, where it held his toothbrush and toothpaste. There it sat for years.
And there it would have stayed, if not for the fact that Martin often encounters antiquities in his line of work. One day, he was helping a Hansons colleague unload some items headed for the block when he spotted some familiar-looking pottery, coated with patterns and animals like those on his toothbrush-holder. He brought his holder to the colleague, James-Seymour Brenchley, Hansonsâ€™ Head of Ancient Art, Antiquities & Classical Coins. Brenchley was able to link the potâ€™s painting style to that of other Indus Valley artifacts. He speculates that the pot had arrived in the United Kingdom via British tourists. Martin decided to put it up for auction at Hansons, where it sold this week for Â£80â€”â€œnot a fortune,â€ Martin admits, but still a 1,900 percent profit, not adjusting for inflation.
For Â£80 minus seller’s fee, I’d have kept it for my toothbrush.