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For over ten years, the late Colin Wilson, a Lincolnshire dealer, researched and championed the authenticity of two small bronze monkeys that he bought at Essex saleroom Sworders in the 1990s for a few hundred pounds.

Made of a gunmetal with a high lead content, Mr Wilson believed they were from Giambologna's fountain of Samson and a Philistine erected in Florence c.1569 and later moved to the gardens of Aranjuez, south of Madrid.

A pen-and-wash drawing in the Uffizi shows the fountain in situ with its central marble figure (the celebrated sculpture now in the V&A) and four niches containing seated monkeys cast in bronze.

Mr Wilson thought his monkeys were a good match for size, but he was often flying in the face of academic opinion.

Grantham auctioneer Colin Young championed the cause of the monkeys for several years, posting a 42-point dossier on the Golding Young website. However, before Mr Young opened bidding on July 30, he stressed that he was selling simply 'a bronze monkey' without reserve.

Bidding for the first monkey concluded quickly at £12,500, with the successful commission bidder choosing to take its pair at the same price. A third recently discovered monkey adopting a different posture from the Wilson pair, sold to a different private buyer at £2800.

Mr Young concluded the sale with the poignant words: "The price does not equate to the cost" – a reference to the enormous time and energy Colin Wilson had expended in his attempt to prove he had discovered a masterpiece.

By Roland Arkell