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London dealer Eskenazi Ltd conjured the winning bid of US$5.2m (£2.89m) for the Hongwu period (1398-1402) underglaze copper red dish at Bonhams & Butterfields (17.5/15/10% buyer's premium) on November 17. The price matches that achieved for a Yuan dynasty blue and while flask that was sold by Doyle New York as part of the Morrill collection in September 2003. That was the most expensive piece of Chinese porcelain sold at auction.

It was the latest in a string of high profile Chinese works purchased by the Mayfair firm last month at Sotheby's and Christie's auctions in Hong Kong and London as well as at this 490-lot San Francisco sale.

The 18in (46cm) diameter dish was outstanding for the even tone of its boldly painted pink-red floral decoration. Copper red was notoriously difficult to control in the kiln often running or misfiring to a green colour. Few examples of this quality survive intact and, apart from some fritting and a polished rim, it was in excellent condition - all the more remarkable as the late San Francisco-based vendor Elinor Majors Carlisle used it to serve cracked crab.

Provenance certainly added to the dish's already considerable allure. Mrs Carlisle was the daughter of Alexander Majors, one of the founders of the transcontinental freighting business that became the legendary Pony Express. A formidable woman in her own right, she was an active suffragette and championed many social and political causes. Passionate about travelling and a collector of Chinese art, she bought the dish on one of several trips to China in the early decades of the last century.