The Lady Motorist which made £5300 at Clevedon Salerooms.

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Values do, however, reflect changing tastes and fashions. Broadly speaking these days, buyers favour artist-decorated pieces that show virtuoso painting techniques, over the generic productions.

Other areas that flourished in past decades, for example Dorothy Doughty's birds and blush ivory figures by undesignated artists, are much harder to sell now than in the heady 1970s and 80s when such pieces were the backbone of Sotheby's Belgravia's 19th century ceramics sales or Phillips' Blenheim Street auctions.

Another Royal Worcester collecting sector that is less voguish and more affordable than in former decades is their novelty line of porcelain candlesnuffers produced from the 1850s onwards and variously modelled as children, animals, characters from fiction etc.

Pieces like the presciently surreal Confidence and Diffidence (showing the 'Swedish Nightingale' Jenny Lind modelled with a bird's head like something from a Max Ernst painting) can still make several hundred pounds. But it is also possible to buy common versions for less than £100 at auction and many snuffers are not valued highly enough to be lotted singly.

But, as in every field, there are exceptions. These are the unusual colour variants, short production runs and trial models. In a collecting area where many enthusiasts built up their holdings long ago, these are the ceramic Penny Blacks and Reds that they fight to add to their collections. And for these they are prepared to spend handsomely as two recent sale results show.

One such example came up for sale at Bonhams Bond Street on September 10. Dog Toby, a 3in (8cm) high model of Mr Punch's canine companion sporting a Tyrolean hat and bearing an indistinct date letter for 1882, is thought to be one of a tiny production run numbering probably no more than 50 examples. Bidding on this went well past the £2500-3500 estimate to £5000 (plus 20 per cent buyer's premium), with the hammer falling to Tony Horsley, specialist Royal Worcester dealer and candlesnuffer authority who wrote the 1999 publication Distinguished Extinguishers.

But just eight days later on September 18, that price was surpassed when a yet rarer model known as The Lady Motorist came up for sale at Bristol's Clevedon Saleroom. It was part of large consignment from a deceased estate and had the bonus of an enticingly low £250-350 estimate.

The Lady Motorist is one of the factory's later models, created in 1909 to depict the last word in Edwardian technology and social change - a female motorist sporting a fur-trimmed long coat, wide hat and goggles. It is, however, a super-rare snuffer, with only four of these early models (three white and one coloured) being recorded. Tony Horsley surmises the model never got beyond the trial stage because the lady's large hat made the design top heavy.

His theory is reinforced by the presence of a brown factory mark to the base indicating these pieces had not received a final firing (post-kiln the mark would be puce). But it is also based on the results of a later 1976 reissue of The Motorist, recreated from the original moulds, which also proved unstable. As a result - unlike reissues of Confidence and Diffidence and The Monk - it never went into general production, making even 1970s Lady Motorist models rare, with only seven to ten thought to exist.

Before the view, a number of prospective purchasers sought verification that Clevedon's find was the earlier Edwardian version (a rubbed brown mark confirmed this) although the catalogue did not commit to a date.

With no auction precedent to go on, the final price was probably anyone's guess, although it never looked likely to sell at the estimated level.

On sale day there were around half a dozen bidders up to the £600-700 mark. After this, it was a straight battle between two serious contenders: Tony Horsley bidding on the phone and a determined private collector who secured it at £5300 (plus 17.5 per cent buyer's premium).

Mr Horsley is planning a new edition of his book that will record the latest sighting of this 'distinguished extinguisher'.

By Anne Crane