Lot 128 was a small, blue and white porcelain vase that looked so shiny and perfect it could have come straight from the souvenir shop of a rundown seaside town.
But within a matter of minutes it had sold for £950,000 at Tennants Auction House in North Yorkshire.
Decorated with lotus blossoms and intricate patterns, the traditional eighteenth century Ming-style vase had belonged to diplomat Sir Frances Stronge who served in Peking in 1879 and was passed down through a family in Northern Ireland.
The morning at Tennants had got off to a buoyant, relaxed start. But as the auction opened for Oriental ceramics and art, more and more people squeezed into the auction room, curious to witness the spectacle of vast sums of money likely to be pledged around the room.
Traditional Chinese works of art have started fetching large sums of money in the past ten years. Tennants auctioneer and associate director Nigel Smith says this is partly because the Chinese Government is buying back good quality pieces of traditional art for new, regional cultural centres being set up across the country.
Plates and vases were snapped up for thousands of pounds in the blink of an eye.
But when Lot 128 came up, bidding accelerated rapidly, with offers quickly being made from the banks of telephone bidders and others in the room. When bidding stalled at £650,000 the normal hum of conversation in the room stopped and people began looking around the room.
But it quickly resumed again, this time between two overseas parties.
As the prices started creeping nearer and nearer £1m an excited murmur broke out in the room.
When the hammer was finally bought down at £950,000, applause broke out.
“Goodness, I’m going to bid for something in a bit and my hand is shaking and I’m only going to go up to £1,000,” confided one woman.
It was sold to a private collector in mainland China.
Speaking to The Northern Echo, the man who bid on her behalf, who did not wish to be named, said: “We’ve come here just for this vase.
“Its value is of interest. It is a very, very nice piece. It could be in a museum.”
Some of the overseas buyers said privately the vase may even fetch even more on sale in Hong Kong or other Oriental markets.
Auctioneer Mr Smith said he was “very pleased with the price”.
“It think it was an exceptional piece. It was perfect, and they need to be to make that sort of money,” he said.