Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

But when auctioneer Philip Rance learnt of their provenance he knew he was onto a winner. The pair had once belonged to Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII, and were offered as lots 698 and 699 at the July 1948 contents sale of her home Grove Lodge.

They were bought by the current
vendor’s father who, also a Keppel, felt it only right that the cabinets remained in the family. He requested the auctioneer sell them as a pair and took them at £95. Although Mr Rance was assured by
specialists that the pair would have been made for export only, the vendor insists they came from the Loot of Peking.

Each cabinet was vibrantly coloured and of upright rectangular form with a pair of doors applied with figures of immortals and courtiers
constructed from lapis and other hardstones and with ivory faces. One of the courtiers had lost his hat but the rest of the figures had suffered no losses. There was some damage to the lacquer on the borders and losses to the mother-of-pearl and hardstone decoration of flowers, shrubs, insects and birds. Estimated at £3000-5000, the 3ft 31/2in by 5ft 1in (1m x 1.54m) cabinets attracted interest from as far afield as Hong Kong but eventually sold to a London dealer underbid by a private
gentleman in the room at £25,000.