An elderly British couple have been told that their umbrella stand is, in fact, a lost Chinese vase, worth more than their house.

The vase, which has been valued at up to 500,000 pounds sterling (more than 578,000 euros) and may have been owned by Florence Nightingale, was found by antiques expert Matthew Denney during a routine valuation.

Further research into the 47 centimetre masterpiece has revealed that it was almost certainly made for the Chinese Emperor Qianlong in around 1740.

The elderly couple from Dorset in southern England had been given the vase as a gift 50 years ago and had left it in a spare room.

According to Matthew Denney, the vase would have been worth double the valuation estimate had it not been cracked and splashed with emulsion paint.

Dukes auction house in Dorchester is due to sell the vase on February 11.