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At the centre of the dispute is a rare cross-shaft, which appeared at the auction rooms of TW Gaze and Son in the town of Diss, Norfolk, on November 16 last year. Described in the catalogue as a “4ft stone monolith carved on all sides with Celtic knot decoration”, it was offered with no published estimate as to its likely price.

London antiquities dealer Rupert Wace bought the lot for £7500 and identified it as an 8th or 9th century Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft. He later put it on display at the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair in June where it was widely acknowledged as the star piece of the event, and sold it to an American dealer for “a substantial six-figure sum”, thought to be in the region of £250,000.

The cross-shaft featured on page 55 of Antiques Trade Gazette No 1546, July 6, as the focal point of the Dealers’ Diary review of the fair.

The original vendor, Mel Glazer, was informed of the Grosvenor House sale by a friend (who had read the Gazette review) and he called his solicitor with a view to suing the auctioneers for negligence.

Mr Glazer told the Gazette that the dispute arose because he believed that the auctioneers did not fulfill their promise to him to secure a second opinion in an effort to establish the true history and nature of the piece.

“We are looking at the extent to which Gaze and Sons discharged their duty to our client,” said Mr Glazer’s solicitor Jonathan Ripman. “It is likely that this will result in legal action.”

Mr Glazer, described as a Staffordshire landowner by Mr Wace’s office, had bought the cross-shaft last year as part of the stock-in-trade of a garden centre in Staffordshire, near the A5 road which follows the route of an Anglo-Saxon thoroughfare. “When we took the cross-shaft to Gaze and Son for valuation, the valuer said that in his opinion it was a Victorian fake and worth about £100-150,” said Mr Glazer. “But they said that they would get a second opinion on it.”

Gaze and Son contacted Thornton Kay, the editor of Salvo, the architectural salvage trade newsletter. “He sent a circular email to the trade and this generated plenty of interest in the item, but we did not receive comment back from Salvo about it,” said Alan Smith, managing director of Gaze.

Mr Kay told the Gazette that he could not remember exactly what happened. Whether or not the auctioneers fulfilled their duty of care to the vendor by consulting Mr Kay but failing to elicit an opinion, as the vendor believed they would, could determine the outcome of a case.

In a similar scenario in 1989, the auctioneers Messenger, May and Bavistock were sued by a vendor after selling two ‘English School’ oils for £840 that were later attributed to George Stubbs and sold at Sotheby’s for £88,000. The judge found in favour of the vendor, but the Court of Appeal overturned this verdict, ruling that the auction house had taken “appropriate” advice on the paintings, in this case from a specialist consultant, and had acted on that advice.