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These produced a crop of dramatic individual prices. Featured here is an image that produced one of the more exciting and competitive moments of the series when it came under the hammer at Sotheby’s on May 10 in their first of the two photograph sales – that devoted to photographs from the collection of Paul F Walter.

The 123/4in (30.5cm) square albumen print, dated to c.1855-60, depicts the billiard room at Mentmore and is attributed to Roger Fenton (it came from the photographer’s personal album and is very much in his style). It was purchased by Walter back in 1979 for £1600 (then way past the £50-80 estimate) when elements from the Fenton album were offered for sale by Christie’s South Kensington.

Twenty-two years on, Sotheby’s had pitched the image, still catalogued only as “attributed to Fenton”, at a rather more substantial £15,000-20,000 estimate. Notwithstanding, this once more proved to be well short of the final price as around half a dozen would-be purchasers successively took up the cudgels to see the bidding climb first past the £100,000 then the £200,000 mark. The final battle was between a Sotheby’s sales clerk with a commission bid and the collector Michael Wilson, acting in this instance for The Getty Museum who finally secured the print for £250,000.

Why all the interest? Apart from the wonderful quality of the image itself, the socio-historical importance of the subject matter and the provenance, no other version of this print is known, thus adding extreme rarity to its long list of qualities.