The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mughal loss is Clive’s millions
- Treasures spirited away from India command record price

London, April 28: Gem-encrusted treasures brought back to England from India by Robert Clive were auctioned at Christie’s here yesterday for nearly £5 million — more than three times their estimate.

Commenting on the tense atmosphere in the sale room as five prize Mughal objects went under the hammer, Christie’s spokeswoman Rhiannon Bevan-John told The Telegraph today: “It was one of the most exciting sales I have been to. I was absolutely thrilled.”

The sales to anonymous bidders, who were willing to pay record prices, demonstrate that even today the name of Clive of India has a certain ring that fascinates collectors beyond the shores of England.

Bevan-John said the treasures were sold by Clive’s direct descendants for “personal reasons”.

The five Mughal objects, decorated with jade, rubies, sapphires and Indian diamonds, greatly exceeded their estimate of £1.5 million when they were auctioned for £4,700,375, including buyers’ premiums.

The star of the collection was a jewelled jade flask, originally made for the Mughal royal court in India in the 17th century, which sold for a staggering £2,917,250.

The flask used to be part of the Royal collection at the imperial court in Delhi and was believed to have been one of the treasures looted from the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah by the invading Persian monarch, Nadir Shah, in 1739.

There are only two similar flasks in existence which are now part of the Hermitage Collection in Russia and an exhibition at Somerset House in London.

The four other Mughal objects, including a fly whisk studded with rubies which sold for 113 times its estimate of £5,000 to £8,000 and fetched £901,250, were snapped up by anonymous phone bidders.

Asked why the price had been so underestimated, Bevan-John said the fly whisk was rare and that “when two people bid desperately the price will go up and up until one drops out”.

There was also a pistol-grip dagger decorated with jewelled floral sprays which sold for £733,250, a hookah decorated with sapphires and royal blue enamel which sold for £94,850, and a pale green nephrite jade bowl which made £53,775.

Bevan-John emphasised: “The sale room was absolutely packed and there was a lot of bidding for these objects -- four or five bids on each. I think the pieces themselves are absolutely beautiful and are beautifully decorated so you find the line between jewellery and objects is blurred. They are amazing examples of the Mughal treasures of the era. And when you add that to the provenance that Clive was such a major figure in this period and also that objects like this are so rare at auction, it all appeals to the bidders.”

She added: “We do have sales about once every two years which can contain Mughal objects but these are very, very rare. That is why they attracted so much attention.”

Was some of this attention from India' Well, buyers’ identities are not known at the moment, but remember the sudden appearance of liquor baron-cum-MP Vijay Mallya with Tipu Sultan’s sword recently' He bought the sword at a London auction last year and waited until before the elections to make a grand announcement.

“It is a humbling experience to be able to announce to the people of Karnataka that the sword of Tipu Sultan has now been brought back to the land of the illustrious monarch,” he said earlier this month.

He hit the campaign trail brandishing the sword.

Has he or some other patriotic Indian bought any of the Mughal objects' Possibly we wouldn’t know until the next election.

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