Sotheby's recorded tremendous prices at their sale of European sculpture and works of art, notably in the field of medieval objects on July 4th 1996 in London.
Many lots came from the collection formed by the British Rail Pension Fund and some of them were among the last treasures available on the market according to dealers who have been increasingly lamenting on the lack of high-quality objects in sales.
The star of the day was a Champlevé enamelled gilt copper reliquary chasse commemorating the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket made in Limoges circa 1195.
Measuring 30.5 x 30 x 11.5cm, this exceptional piece estimated some £ 2 million
(US $ 3,150,000) reached £ 3,800,000 to the disappointment of the Victoria and Albert Museum which had made a £ 2,2 million offer for it. The chasse was bought by the dealer Sam Fogg on behalf of a private collector.
The British Rail Pension Fund expected to raise £ 9,2 million from the sale of some 100 lots...
Finally, the total amount rose to £13,6 millions.
Another great piece in this sale was a gilt bronze base for a candlestick or cross, probably English, dating back to the first quarter of the 12th Century. Measuring 11 x 20.6 cm with its feet decorated with knights or saints, one with a sword on his knees, a second with a dog by his side, a third notably holding a falcon, it fetched £ 4 millions (US $ 6,300,000) and went again to Sam Fogg who was acting for a private collector.
Four allegorical figures in hard stones carved in Florence in 1637 representing Courage, Hope, Justice and Temperance went to the London Citybank for £ 400,000 ten times more than the price they fetched in 1977 at the famed Mentmore sale.
Two bronze high relief medallions, the first celebrating King Louis XIV and Sebastien le Prestre Vauban at the siege of Maastricht, the second showing Louis XIV receiving the ambassadors of Siam, both measuring 78.8 cm in diameter by Jean Arnould, circa 1686, received close attention from many bidders, including two big dealers from Paris who would have liked to bring these plaques back to the French capital since these were among those 24 which decorated the place des Victoires during a century before they were dismantled by French revolutionaries.
The Citybank was again determined to acquire these and paid £ 600,000 (US $ 900,000) for each.
The extraordinary quality of some of the lots was enough to explain these outstanding results. Otherwise, average pieces have not been faring well in sales since the first half of 1995.