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Their Chinese ceramics and works of art sale on June 14 (a still substantial 584-lot gathering) produced one of the most interesting results of the series amongst the blue and white export ware when this 101/4in (26cm) high, late 16th century pilgrim flask was put up for sale. The piece, whose non-Chinese shape is based on an Islamic metal prototype, was in far from perfect condition: the neck had been cut down and replaced with a white metal foliate mount and the flask had numerous glaze chips, while there was a substantial vertical firing fault to one side.

But the flask also had one feature that was very much in its favour – its Royal Spanish armorial of Castille and Leon quarterly for Phillip II of Spain painted to one side of the body.

Phillip II, best known in the UK for launching the Armada against England, is known to have had an extensive Chinese porcelain collection. Only around half a dozen such flasks are known, all bearing the royal Spanish arms. Christie’s have sold three examples in London since 1987, the most recent in 1992 for £35,000. The majority of the flasks are now in institutions such as the V&A, the British Museum, the Peabody Museum and the National Museum in Tokyo.

The appearance of this version, therefore, is a rare occurrence and the £4000-6000 estimate always looked very modestly pitched, more of an indication of its ‘there to be sold’ status. The auctioneers weren’t surprised therefore to see it leave that limit way behind, although, given its condition, they had not been quite sure what level it would reach. In the event it finally sold for £54,000, very much the highest price of the auction.

Competition up to the £35,000 mark came from Portuguese and Spanish dealers in the room, after which it became a more protracted battle between two telephone bidders, another Portuguese bidder and the successful buyer, an agent acting for a client.