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For anyone ignorant of convection, one of those in favour of hot air might have lifted the lid on a veilleuse such as this, pictured right, to explain the principle – for its method of keeping the coffee warm was the same as that which propelled the Montgolfier balloon, symbolically painted on the side of the faux crenellated tower. This representation of Pilatre de Rozier’s first flight by hot air, which took place on November 21 1783, was complemented on the coffee pot (and in miniature on the pastille burner sitting at the base of the tower) by an enamel painting of the hydrogen balloon by which Charles and Robert floated into the skies above Paris on December 1 of that year.

Many pieces of Paris porcelain were decorated with ballooning scenes, but this was one of the scarcest examples of aeronautical memorabilia from the collection of Lord Kings Norton consigned to the Knightsbridge rooms of Bonhams for sale on November 23. Measuring 9in (23cm) high, the veilleuse was signed J. Siguin and dated 1850, but as for the red script to the base which read Manoir de Puylaurens, Carn, the auctioneers could find no record, though it was probably the estate which commissioned the piece. While the majority of buyers at this sale were ballooning enthusiasts, the higher bids on the (unrestored) veilleuse were tendered by collectors of French porcelain, one of whom paid the necessary triple-estimate £1600 (plus 15 per cent premium).