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Produced in the mid-1860s by Anton Ritter von Perger, it was an interesting lot, but not a truly exceptional one and thought by the cataloguer to be worth a little less than the other manuscript, a charming and again profusely illustrated account of the Champignons du Bourbonnais, compiled c.1890-1900 by Victor Berthoumieu, a village priest from Saint-Pourçain sur Sioule. The latter sold pretty much as expected at £8000, but the Viennese manuscript was the focus of one those astonishing bidding battles that can occur when someone with a lot of money and/or a lot of nerve takes on someone else willing to pay whatever it takes to secure the desired lot.

Facts have been hard to come by. This part of the sale was, I believe, dominated by one private buyer, and on such occasions the name of Sheikh al-Thani of Qatar is traditionally bandied around – though never of course by Sotheby’s. However, my enquiries suggest that, whether or not he was that main buyer, he was not involved in this remarkable bidding battle – nor indeed in the fight for a unique copy of Palisot de Beauvois’ Flore d’Orware et de Benin of 1804-07 with plates in plain and coloured states, plus Mirbel’s original drawings.

On both occasions a bidder in the room, obviously known by Sotheby’s, entered into an heroic contest with the telephone. The Palisot de Beauvois, valued at £40,000, was taken at £360,000, but it was the magic mushrooms that really caused a stir. Valued at £6000-8000, they were bid to a colossal £480,000 before the bidder in the room won out.

But was it money well spent?

For the vendor this was all his or her Christmases come at once, but this mushroom manuscript, it seems, was known to the trade, having spent some time on offer, and apparently unwanted, priced at around £3000-4000!