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The sale said as much about the remarkable communications grapevine that operates within the antiques trade as it does the current demand for top-notch 18th century American cabinetmaking.

Arriving late for the sale at Ken Miller & Son Inc.’s auction in Northfield, Mass., from a south Florida estate was an entry described as “a period full serpentine mahogany Chippendale porringer top game table with flip top, swing leg, full carved skirt with shell-carved drop and drawer, nicely arched front and rear cabriole legs with acanthus carved knees and large ball and claw feet”. The table had arrived apparently too late to photograph but this description, which appeared in trade advertisements two weeks prior to the sale, was enough to capture attention.

Speaking after the sale, Albert Sack related the process of discovery. “Reading the description I was intrigued. I called and asked the auctioneer for some information about the table. He said: ‘It’s just like the one in [Wallace] Nutting’s Furniture Treasury’ [published 1928] – a table that incidentally once belonged to my father. I was a little doubtful but persuaded a friend to drive me [to Northfield]. We walked in and there it was – just like the one in Nutting’s Furniture Treasury except with a more developed skirt. My friend said he had never been so excited about a piece for 25 years.”

There must have been some thought that the table might slip through at a bargain price but Massachusetts and Ohio dealer Bill Samaha was there to provide ample competition into seven figures.

Mr Sack spoke in reverential terms about the table: “The Philadelphia School represents the supreme achievement of American Chippendale furniture and in terms of form, line and execution, this is a magnificent expression of that style.” It is also a rare form from the 1760-70 period. Games tables are less common than lowboys and highboys and the number of turret-top games tables extant make for a very small group indeed.

Although the wooden drawer handles are obvious replacements, the condition of the table is quite original. According to Mr Sack, every knee-return and all reinforcing blocks are retained and there is oxidation to every surface where it is expected. In keeping with most 18th century Philadelphia carcasses, the secondary woods are oak and poplar. A related lowboy exists that is attributed to Thomas Affleck, although there is much research to be done before a similar case is made for this table.

The price is thought to be the second highest realised at auction outside New York – although it does not quite challenge the $1.485m (a price that includes a 10 per cent premium) paid for a Chippendale mahogany pie-crust table at Pook & Pook Inc of Downington, Philadelphia, in June 1999.