HMS Mars was a likely candidate for special commission because she was famous for several naval engagements.

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The 231/2in (60cm) length plank-on-frame model stood within a 23in x 2ft 4in x 101/4in (59 x 71 x 26cm) mahogany and ebony parquetry case, set against an oil-on-panel harbour scene. The finely carved and painted boxwood construction was inlaid with painted bone, the minutely detailed stern with HMS Mars inscribed on the transom, and brass cannon in the gun ports.

It was clear from the outset that it was outstanding and was conservatively estimated at £10,000-15,000. Two London dealers took the bidding from the start, leaving hopeful dealers from the US and private collectors stranded.

The eventual buyer, Laurence Langford, said: "I could see that this model was exceptional - otherwise I would not have paid that kind of price for it!"

He admitted that he had a couple of clients in mind - perhaps one of the international crew of private yacht owners who dominate the market - but added: "It's such a good model that I'd be happy to keep it."

Although it was not catalogued as such, Mr Langford was certain that it was a French prisoner-of-war rather than a Navy Board model, a gut feeling based on his view that "POW models have a quality, style and detail that is exquisite, a touch that you can recognise in the same way as you do the brushstroke on paintings. English Admiralty models of the same period are superb and very fine but not as delicate".

Admiralty or Navy Board ships' models were developed in the early 18th century in response to a 1716 Navy Board instruction to the Royal Shipyards to make detailed and accurate scale models (1:48). They were used to demonstrate vessels to the Lords of the Admiralty for approval, or to present to naval officers and dignitaries.

Prisoner-of-war models were built from salvaged materials for an entirely different market: the English gentry, who purchased display pieces from markets in the prison grounds or commissioned new models of particular ships.