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Rather remarkably, one might think, a major force behind the success was the number of Chinese buyers.

"We have seen some Chinese bidding at the last three or four sales but it was particularly noticeable here," said auctioneer James Rylands, hazarding a guess that the new predilection among wealthy Chinese for Western-style architecture may have been a factor.

"We were particularly thrilled with the results of the Coalbrookdale material," he said, having seen all 12 lots - a fountain, a pair of tables and ten lots of seats - sell for a hammer total of £84,000 at the auction on May 20.

"There has been a growing trend to the return of the late '90s when these pieces did so well, but the May sale outdid all previous records," he added.

Buying Patterns

Coalbrookdale cast-iron garden seats vary widely in price with the rarity and the desirability of the pattern counting for much. It appears the emergent Chinese buyers want the best.

The top-priced seats, a pair of 6ft 3in (1.90m) long, fully stamped Coalbrookdale & Co benches in the rare Horse Chestnut design patented in 1868, went to America at £22,000 against a £10,000-15,000 estimate.

Among the seats going to China were a similarly sized single seat in the same pattern at a double mid-estimate £8000 and a pair of 6ft 3in (1.90m) long, fully stamped benches in the equally rare Passion Flower pattern registered in 1862, which went just over the top estimate at £15,500.

With cast iron being the material in most demand, a rare pair of c.1870 Val d'Osne term figures, or herms, of a boy and girl, each standing 5ft 3in (1.60m) high were estimated at £6000-10,000 but sold at £18,000. Once again, Chinese money dominated.

Coadestone Townley Vase

Another name very much back in favour is that of Coadestone. At Summers Place an example of Eleanor Code's ceramic artificial stone outsold pieces in the marble for which it was a substitute.

This was a rare example of the Coadestone Townley Vase, a 3ft (92cm) tall piece modelled on a 2nd century AD Roman marble vase discovered in Italy in 1773 and now in the British Museum. The Coadestone piece was dated 1840 and, against an £8000-12,000 estimate, was another Chinese buy at £14,500.