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Dealers are warned to beware of watercolours purportedly signed by the Prince, such as the view of Balmoral which sold for £7300 at the sale. The other two, card-mounted watercolours were a winter scene, inscribed Sandringham, Norfolk, and a view of Ben Avon which sold to a dealer for £7300 and £6000.

The auctioneers were alerted shortly after the sale when staff at St James’s Palace called to say that the Prince of Wales had never given any watercolours for sale. “These are certainly not the Prince’s paintings,” said a spokesman. A further search of Prince Charles’s private collection revealed three, very similar views, which the forger may have copied from Christmas cards issued by the Palace.

Fellows and Sons said they had taken the paintings off the market, refunded the buyers and were helping police to trace the source of the forgeries. At the time of going to press police investigations were continuing but no arrests had been made.

Prior to the sale the auctioneers had withdrawn a gilt framed, first edition Ladybird book entered with the paintings because of doubts about the validity of its ‘Charles’ and ‘Diana’ signatures, but they did not recheck the provenance of the pictures. The vendor said that they had been sold at a Royal Variety Club charity auction in 1990 and produced a sheet of headed notepaper from the Club stating this claim, but it has since been discovered that no such auction took place.

“In hindsight, we should have done more research on this collection before sale,” said auctioneer Stephen Whittaker.