Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

"I've never known anything like it," said auctioneer James Lees. "Online buyers took a number of the lots and the others were almost all propelled by online underbidders."

What caused the stir was a tranche of 79 pieces of early Staffordshire and provincial pottery figures from Lady Russell's collection, most of which was dispersed by Christie's last autumn.

At Holloway's on March 27, all bar two lots from the collection sold, totalling around £44,000 against a predicted high-estimate of around £26,000.

Although buying was shared between private collectors and the trade, the two late 18th century items pictured here both went to one of Britain's leading dealers in early Staffordshire.

The 9in (23cm) Whieldon-type, manganese glazed Staffordshire parrot, estimated at £800-1200, sold at £2000, while the 8¼in (21cm) creamware standing cockerel took £1600.

Other high four-figure Staffordshire sellers from the collection included a set of four, 6¼in (16cm) tall early 19th century figures emblematic of the seasons, offered with a similar figure of Venus, which took £1900 (estimate £400-500) and a pair of Victorian pottery black and white, lop-eared rabbits, made to an unusual model 4¾in (12cm) wide, which took £1700 (estimate £500-700).

The buyer's premium was 20%