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It is a question to which no satisfactory answer has been given, “although there has been no shortage of theories”, said Mark Stephen, the Sotheby’s auctioneer offering this example, right, at the Billingshurst country furniture sale.

It has been suggested, rather mischievously, that the models were made for the amusement or instruction of children. Even accounting for the macabre sensibilities of the Victorians, this theory stretches credibility, although The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood does have a couple of these models on display.

More likely, the models were placed in butchers’ shop windows at night, advertising the cuts of meat that had been put into cold store until the morning.

As the theories vary, so do the prices paid for these models. Sotheby’s sold a smaller example last year for £7000, but this example, measuring 2ft 4in wide by 20in high by 6in deep (71 x 51 x 15cm) went at £4000.