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This is especially the case when one considers that the two biggest players in this field: Sheikh Saud al-Thani of Qatar and Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah of Kuwait could arguably have had their minds elsewhere last month. For sure the Islamic market is not so narrow that it rests solely on the shoulders of these two wealthy individuals. There are other big buyers too, that include Occidentals, like Copenhagen’s David Foundation, and Western-based Middle Eastern buyers. Nonetheless, when the Qatari and Kuwaiti collectors are in action, especially when they are battling against each other, it can make all the difference to prices and to a sale’s overall fortunes.

But as things transpired, it turned out to be very much business as usual. Each of the three main works of art sales, held in date order by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams, saw at least one major telephone buyer and a couple of other big absentee bidders, and together they fielded around a dozen items across a range of media that were subject to pitched bidding battles resulting in multi-estimate results.

The identities of absentee buyers are seldom revealed, but prominent and extensive buying across a variety of different media, as was seen at one of these events, is a feature of Qatari purchasing. Moreover, both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, while not revealing any identities, both said there was no real difference to the buying pattern and that all the usual players were in action.

That said, many of those bidding battles involved three or four contestants, indicating that other major players also put in an appearance. While some of these were also absentee bidders, there were agents present on the ground, such as the Kjeld von Folsach, Curator of the David Collection in Copenhagen and Marcus Fraser, Sotheby’s former Islamic specialist, who now acts as an agent for various clients, as well as several big spenders from the London trade like Sam Fogg.

Outside the star offerings, there was the customary highly selective response to the remaining Islamic works. So, no change here either, even down to the categories of material that proved most difficult: early medieval ceramics, early glassware and early metalwares. Selling percentages were all pretty similar to recent series. They worked out at 56 per cent by lottage for Bonhams, the biggest of the three main gatherings; 57.5 per cent at Christie’s King Street, 67 per at Sotheby’s and 62.5 per cent at Christie’s secondary sale in South Kensington. Selling figures were higher by value thanks, at the first three events, to the input of those blockbuster prices.

The fact that take-up was not dramatically different from usual will have been particularly encouraging in the mid range since this relies on a broader spread of buyers who might be more affected by economic fluctuations than the main very wealthy players in this field.

One point worth making about this latest series is that at Sotheby’s and at Christie’s King Street, Islamic manuscripts, miniatures and other arts of the book were especially thinly represented by volume. This is not so much a dramatic change as a gradual shift (time was when these series could command their own separate manuscript and miniature catalogues). Like all Islamic art fields, manuscript material has been subject to a fairly rigorous pruning of less valuable and more decorative material for these major auctions, but the thinner showing is also a reflection of the scarce supply of top quality material in recent years. There is plenty of evidence, vide Sotheby’s April 2000 Islamic sale with its record-breaking results, that when really top pieces do come up, demand is as strong as ever.