AN auction house in an Irish village made history after a Chinese jade seal sold for an unprecedented €630,000 – or 157 times its guide price.
There was spontaneous applause at Sheppard's Irish Auction House in Durrow, Co Laois, after the hammer fell on the final bid for a 18th century Chinese Qing Dynasty white jade seal.
The tiny item had been estimated to be worth between €4,000-€6,000 in the catalogue.
However, it attracted huge interest from international buyers.
In the end, two Chinese collectors battled it out for the rare seal – with one bidding on the telephone and the other online.
"There were quite a few Chinese people in the room but in the final shakedown, it was a battle on the internet and the phone," said auctioneer Philip Sheppard.
The internet bid won out in the end.
The square seal is only 3cm high and belonged to a Parisian collector, Marie Louise Beauvoir.
Marked as lot number 1,575 in the catalogue, it was described as a "Chinese Qing period white jade seal, of square form, surmounted by a dragon".
The dragon was a symbol particular to the ruling emperor and his officials.
Mr Sheppard said the €630,000 price fetched by the seal came as a "complete surprise" to him.
"I'm not sure if the seller knows yet but I'd imagine they'll be very pleased to find out," he said.
It's not known what Ms Beauvoir originally paid for the seal.
Lot number 1,575 is the most expensive item ever sold at Sheppard's.
It also sold a late 18th century blue-and-white Chinese vase yesterday for €180,000. The vase was part of a collection from Carlow which had 98 items in total.
"We've sold 97 of them. It's been a great day. It's surreal," said Mr Sheppard.
"We've broken the Irish record for selling a piece of Chinese art. The closest to us is around €310,000. We more than doubled that."
In March 2010, a porcelain Chinese vase that was estimated at €150 at Sheppard's sold for €129,965, after taxes and fees, in a dramatic bidding war.
The buyer, London-based ceramics expert Richard Peters, said at the time that he believed he could re-sell what turned out to be a rare 18th century vase for up to €3.3m.
According to experts, it is not unusual in specialised areas such as ceramics for auction houses to be deliberately conservative in valuations and descriptions.