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Making a major contribution to that overall total at £500,000 was the Stradivari ’cello, pictured top right, which went under the hammer at Christie’s 489-lot sale on March 17. Known as the Segelman Ex Hart, it had been in the possession of the vendor, a professional musician, for the last quarter century and is the first Stradivari ’cello to sell in London at auction for seven years, since the same auctioneers sold the Bonjour for £650,000. The price last month however, paid by dealer Peter Biddulph on behalf of a private client, was some £100,000 under the low end of the £600,000-800,000 estimate.

Pictured bottom right is a Venetian double bass by Domenico Montagnana of c.1747 which topped Sotheby’s March 16 sale when it sold to a professional musician for £140,000. Interestingly, despite the fact that this was well under the £250,000-350,000 estimate, it still set a new auction high for a double bass (and, incidentally, doubled the previous high set by the auctioneers in June ’97 for a bass by Nicolo Bergonzi).

“The bass world is notoriously difficult to sell to”, said Sotheby’s specialist Tim Ingles last week “most basses tend to change hands privately between players and not sell at auction which made pricing difficult to predict. Our estimate reflected that we were hoping to attract a collector or institution. However, the world of the bass player felt our price was a little ambitious”.

The 184-lot auction sale also, incidentally, established another record, for an instrument by Nicolo Gagliano, when they sold a violin by this celebrated Naples maker for £78,000. This also went to a musician.

Bonhams’ sale, which also took place on March 16, was the smallest of the four at 165 lots. The Knightsbridge auctioneers had another Montagnana, a violin this time, as the potential star of their sale but it failed when bidding halted at £165,000 against a £220,000-260,000 estimate. That made rather a dent in their selling rate by value but their take up by lottage was the highest of the four at 80 per cent.

Phillips’ sale did not feature any potential stars in the same price league as the Mantagnanas or the Strad. Their potential best seller was a late 17th century violin by Enrico Catenari which carried expectations of £40,000-45,000 but this also failed to sell, leaving as their top lot a viola by a member of the Gagliano family which went just under low estimate at £25,000.