Probably best taken with a pinch of salt – the $503,300 bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale together with an old handwritten label detailing its moment in polar history.

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The story begins on June 21 when eBay user 'collectordan' from Tulsa, Oklahoma purchased a full bottle of Allsopp's Arctic Ale on eBay for $304 plus $19.95 shipping from a seller in Massachusetts.

It came with an old laminated hand-written note signed by Percy G. Bolster, a Boston attorney, stating that he had received the bottle in 1919 and it had been specially brewed in 1852 for a polar expedition.

The buyer deduced it was part of the cache of provisions taken to the Arctic in 1852 by Sir Edward Belcher during a fruitless search for Sir John Franklin and his crew, who left London for the Canadian Arctic in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage.

Belcher had asked London brewer Samuel Allsopp, notable for brewing some of the first India Pale Ales in England for export to the colonies, to bottle a special batch for the sub-zero trip and later wrote that Allsopp's ale was "a valuable antiscorbutic" that defended against scurvy.

The high alcohol content of close to 10 per cent kept it from freezing.

The bottle was relisted on eBay on August 2. Museum Quality Allsopp's Arctic Ale 1852 Sealed/Full - Rarest Historic Beer in the World. Amazing History.

There were lots of exclamation marks, a lengthy description of Captain Belcher and the quest to find Franklin and collectordan somehow determined the bottle merited a 'Buy It Now' price of $150,000 (shipping was free).

However, when bidding started at $1, the option to buy at such a give-away sum disappeared and a long ten days began to unfold.

After two days it was showing a small profit at $360. On day six it had broken the $2000 barrier. On day seven 23 bidders joined the fray and dropped $78,000. By August 11, with over 74,000 watching the action, we had the last of the 157 bids - $503,300.

In theory this was a record for any polar artefact and a record for any bottle of alcohol, but does the bid stand? The answer is almost certainly no.

Before he began collecting half-million dollar historic beer bottles, the 'buyer' from Somerville, Massachusetts had made 17 previous transactions on eBay - most of them the purchase of heavy metal albums up to $30. It was suggested to Wendy Sept of the eBay public relations department that past buying history doesn't support a purchase of this magnitude.

"As of right now, we don't know if it has sold," she said. "We don't intermediate the transactions."

She reiterated eBay's policy that a bid is a "legal contract" and that the company doesn't interfere between buyer and seller. She said, however, that certain "high profile" items occasionally attract bogus bidders who just want to be part of the action.

In short, as long as the seller hasn't notified eBay that he may have a non-paying bidder, eBay were more than happy to receive the mass of publicity such a story would generate.

So what would a bottle of Allsopp's Arctic Ale really be worth? A recent price comparison comes in the form of the telescope used by Captain McClintock in his Franklin search of 1857-59 that sold for £5600 at Halls of Shrewsbury in March.

The received wisdom within the trade was that at $503,300 someone was trying (but, with such a spectacular bid, failing) to gerrymander with the market. The $304 the bottle had made back in June was probably much closer to the mark.

By Roland Arkell & Robert Kyle