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This is not a field where sales see 80 nor 90 per cent of the material finding buyers as a matter of course.
In view of this, no one was probably surprised at the very selective response to the three main Islamic auctions held last month: Sotheby’s (20/15/10% buyer’s premium) got away 58 per cent of their material, Bonhams & Brooks (15/10% buyer’s premium) 52 per cent of theirs and Christie’s (17.5/10% buyer’s premium) just 47 per cent.

But even if these were not the most encouraging statistics, plainly bidders did turn up, there was buying and it also is worth noting, as ever, demand was still strong for the really exceptional pieces.

This latest series may not have produced a run of individual results to rival those seen in October 2000 but the multiple-estimate prices commanded by the best on offer last month suggest that some of the big players were still competing for the star items.

Highlight of this October series was the 14th century Mamluk enamelled glass basin, pictured above right, which topped Sotheby’s 194-lot of Arts of the Islamic World sale on October 18 when it was pursued to a treble-estimate £1.9m. Made in Egypt or Syria c.1350, offered for sale from a European family collection and formerly in the collection of a member of the Italian royal family, Eman Filiberto di Savoia, Duca D’Aosta, it is identical in form to a bowl in the Cleveland Museum of Art that was considered unique until the appearance of this example.
There was fierce competition for a North Indian jade pendant made for imperial use. The 21/4in (5.8cm) white oval jewel is finely inscribed with the name of the Emperor Shah Jahan and the date
AH 1041 (1631-2AD) and suspended from a later pearl necklace. It sailed past its £20,000-30,000 estimate to make £410,000.

A well-provenanced 16th century Persian illuminated manuscript was the best seller of Christie’s 233-lot October 16 sale. The 549-page copy
of Firdawsi’s Shahnameh of c.1570, decorated with 76 miniatures painted in Qazwin or Herat, one of which is shown right, came from the Hagop Kervorkian fund and was sold by Sotheby’s in 1979. Last month it realised £400,000, comfortably over its £200,000-300,000 estimate.

The auctioneers also had yet another success with an Islamic bronze from Spain to add to their previous list of strong prices in this area. A 71/2in (19.5cm) high 11th century Umayyad oil lamp with a lion-shaped handle was contested to a double-estimate £140,000, selling to the C.L. David Collection of Copenhagen.

The top seller in Bonhams and Brooks’ 570-lot sale on October 17 proved to be a rock crystal chess piece, from Egypt or Persia, made probably between the 10th and 12th century AD. The 11/2in (3.7cm) high pawn (two views pictured bottom right) carved with three palmette designs, fetched £38,000 against predictions of £12,000-15,000.