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The piece had a large crack extending around the body and damage and a crack to the mouth and side, but its rarity, provenance and a striking design prompted several prospective purchasers to sweep past Doyle’s $500,000-750,000 estimate and contest it up to the $2m mark after which two determined bidders, one in the room and the other on the phone, took the bidding on to no less than $5.2m (£3.27m) plus 19.5/12 per cent buyer’s premium.

The flask, which was formerly in the
celebrated collection of Sir Harry Garner, is one of just seven known examples, six of which are in museum collections. The buyer of the flask, who was bidding on the phone, was described by the auctioneers as “a prominent collector based in London”. In US dollar terms, Doyle’s price surpasses the previous auction record for a piece of Chinese porcelain – the HK$40m (£3.7m/$5.14m) paid at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2000 for a Ming, Jiajing period wucai covered fishbowl.