By Don Ford

BERKELEY (KPIX) — Among the many unique items in the Spenger family collection is a large vase.

It’s a bit of an oddity but, after an investigation, it was determined that it’s actually a valuable piece of international art which, scholars say, has been missing for more than a century.

At a height of 8 feet, 8 inches, it is one of a three-piece set representing the largest examples of Japanese cloisonné enamel ever made and it was exhibited at the Chicago World Fair in 1893.

One vase went to Oxford University, the second is on display at the Japanese National Museum in Tokyo.

Up until a couple days ago, the third vase was thought lost forever but, it turns out, it was hiding in plain sight at Spenger’s Fish Grotto in Berkeley.

Deric Torres, vice president of Clars Auction Gallery, explains “It was just sitting in the restaurant for all these years and the Spenger family didn’t even know or realize its importance.”

The Spengers considered it a nice prop for the restaurant.

Generations of customers dined inches from the blue Meiji-period cloisonné vase. Alicia Spenger said that, a hundred years ago, her great grandfather Frank Spenger bought it for his wife.

“When it first came, my great grandfather gave it to her and put it up in the penthouse where they lived above the restaurant. He brought it up there, put it up there without her knowing and she walked in and she was like, ‘Wow!’ Get it out! Put it downstairs!”

And there it remained until the restaurant closed.