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For their July 26 performance, the auctioneers also had a rather attractive selection of automata to round off the 131-lot event which turned in some of the sale’s highest prices.

One of them was this rare Conjurer automaton by Lambert made c.1890, and at 2ft 7in (81cm) high, it is one of the largest models the French company produced. Behind a draped table, the figure stands holding two inverted cups, which he lifts to reveal seven changing items: a brooch, a baby in a rose; cat, coins, three balls, a die and a candlestick. The conjuror is dressed in an Elizabethan-style slashed doublet with yellow silk sleeves, hose, cap and red velvet boots. This costume is either a very well preserved original or an old replacement copied from an original pattern.

Although another version wearing an identical costume featured in a sale in Chartres in 1999, the outfit is an unusual variant for the Conjurer, since models usually wear a smoking jacket and waistcoat. The auctioneers point out that the outfit style is closer to that used for Lambert’s Mephistopheles and, as the features are identical, the same mould was presumably used for both.

This was one of around half a dozen lots in the sale entered by an anonymous nobleman, and its estimate of £6000-8000 was easily outstripped as the bidding rose to £19,000 paid by a private English buyer.

Also pictured here is the more affordable side of the automaton market (although at a near treble-estimate £1300, it hardly counted as the snip of the sale). Bear Brand honey will doubtless ring a bell with many Antiques Trade Gazette readers as a familiar sight on British tea tables in the 1940s and ’50s. This advertising display model for the tea-time favourite features an electrically powered motor that causes bees to fly in and out of the hive, while a brown bear emerges from within, licking a honey pot. It measures a substantial 2ft x 2ft 3in (61 x 71cm) and is contained in the original storage case marked On Loan from the Bear Honey Co Ltd.

Overall Christie’s sale netted just over £126,000 with selling rates in the 80s in both lot and money terms. Most of the 20 lots that failed to sell were minor items, with the notable exception of a rare Komet disc music box of exceptionally large size, which contributed half the unsold in money terms when it was bought in at £7500.