Inscribed Beef and Liberty, this Beefsteak Club ring is the first seen at auction since 1990 and made £3600 at Christie’s South Kensington on November 7.

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The club - also known as The Sublime Society of Steaks and The Beefsteak Society - was established on December 6, 1735 by the lavish 18th century producer John Rich who was then manager of Covent Garden Theatre.

The story goes that one night while supping with his friend Lord Peterborough, the latter was so delighted with the steak Rich had cooked he suggested a repetition of the meal the following week.

The meetings over steak morphed into an exclusive 24-member gentlemen's club that came to include numerous members of the literary and artistic elite, including William Hogarth, actor David Garrick and journalist John Wilkes, who met in Rich's room at Covent Garden for evenings of conversation and conviviality.

Later they admitted a 25th member, the Prince of Wales, and moved to various venues, including the Shakespeare Tavern, the Lyceum Theatre and the Bedford Hotel.

John Thornhill's membership of the exclusive club was remembered at Christie's South Kensington on November 7 courtesy of an 18th century gold and blue and white enamel mourning ring. It was inscribed Beef and Liberty and engraved to the reverse John Thornhill, Esq, Obt. 23 Sep 1757, Aet 57.

A similar example also made for John Thornhill was sold at Christie's in October 1990, when it fetched £2000 against an estimate of £1200-1500. "It wasn't unusual in those days for prominent people to order several rings to be distributed to friends and family after their death," said jewellery specialist Keith Penton.

Even so, the one sold in 1990 was the only other Beefsteak ring that specialists at Christie's had seen in their 20 years of experience, so it is fair to say they are rare. Someone who knew almost nothing about it consigned it over the counter, "so it was really fun for us to be able to research it, pinpoint which Thornhill it belonged to, and source the accompanying image of Thornhill from the National Portrait Gallery," said Mr Penton.

Although the original Beefsteak Club ceased to exist in 1867, the actor J.L. Toole founded a new one in 1876, which still meets today on Irving Street in the Covent Garden area. Various members of the club contacted Christie's expressing interest in the ring, but it is not known whether the private UK client who purchased it was one of them. Carrying the same estimate as 16 years ago, it fetched an equally respectable £3600 (plus 20% buyer's premium).

By Stephanie Harris