DALLAS (AP) — Randy Buttram never gave much thought to the two 4½-foot tall ornate vases that graced the elegant main entrance of his grandparents' Oklahoma City mansion and later were displayed around a fireplace facade at his parents' home.
The vases, which had been packed away for around a decade, turned out to be rare items from Russia dating back nearly two centuries — to the reign of Nicholas I.
They also carried immense value, fetching $2.7 million Thursday in a private sale about a week before they were to be auctioned.
Buttram, 66, of Oklahoma City, remembers as a young boy playing at his grandparents' sprawling Italian Renaissance mansion that included a bowling alley in the basement. He said that the vases were part of the decor in an entryway so grand — complete with twin staircases — that they didn't particularly stand out.
"To me as a child they were just there and that's all," he said. "We did a lot of roughhousing in the house. We're lucky nobody knocked them over."
Officials with Dallas Auction Gallery were evaluating items inherited by Buttram and his brother at their late parents' home when they noticed the top portion of one of the vases lying on a bed had the blue marking of Russia's Imperial Porcelain Factory used during the reign of Nicholas I and the date 1833 printed on it.
The pieces of the vases, which are designed to be disassembled for moving and storage, had been mostly stored in cardboard boxes.
"We saw that and immediately recognized it as: 'This is unbelievable,'" said Scott Shuford, president of Dallas Auction Gallery, which conducted the sale. "I think our eyes kind of bulged out a little bit."
Shuford said the vases generated interest from all over the world in the time leading up to the April 17 auction. He said that the buyer wishes to remain anonymous. The pre-auction estimate for the vases was $1 million to $1.5 million.
As an adult, Buttram began to suspect the vases likely did have some value, but never did he imagine just how much.
Buttram's grandparents, Frank and Merle Buttram, bought the vases in 1928 from the Bernheimer Gallery in Munich while traveling through Europe. Frank Buttram, an Oklahoma native, founded Buttram Petroleum Co., which is still in the family and is now called Buttram Energies Inc.