But when a portfolio of Views of the Bermudas or Somers Islands first appeared in the catalogue for their December 2 sale it had carried an estimate of just £70-100.
This 1848 publication contains 13 litho plates by W. Parrott after Edmund Gilling Hallewell, an unusual number that initially led the saleroom to think that it may have been incomplete.
In fact, the 13 plates make up three panoramas of the islands from different vantage points. And while this copy was foxed - the illustration reproduced here shows it at its worst - it is also a real rarity.
Edmund Gilling Hallewell (1822-1869) arrived at the Bermuda garrison in 1841 with the 20th Regiment of Foot or East Devons. He was promoted lieutenant there and, in 1844, appointed adjutant. Hallewell also served as private secretary to the governor, Colonel William Reid, whose daughter Sophia he married.
It seems that it was under his father-in-law's encouragement that Hallewell, who like many young officers of his time would have had any natural talent for art encouraged during his training, produced his watercolour panoramas.
Reid, who was keen to see the commercial development of the islands, forwarded them to the Colonial Office in London, to "convey to persons interested an idea of the nature of this singular group of islands and harbours".
Hallewell's military career later took him to the Crimea, Canada and Malta, and it seems he continued to paint. Works shown at the Royal Academy and elsewhere by a Colonel 'Ben' Hallewell were most likely by Edmund. At his death, aged only 47, Hallewell was commandant of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.
The Bermuda views are now much sought after. A Bermudan website dealing with painters who have worked on the islands reckons only eight sets are in private ownership there. My researches uncovered another coloured set being offered by a Bermuda dealer - price on application.
One of those who viewed at Banbury told Nick Williams of Holloways that he thought a coloured copy had once made £30,000, and such a price is recorded on that same Bermudan website.
Book auction records for the last 30 or so years show only two other copies - an incomplete and presumably uncoloured copy that made £640 in 1981 and a complete coloured copy, the plates all mounted on card, that reached £15,000 at Sotheby's five years later.
However, such things sometimes turn up in topographical picture or print sales and - with the help of the Sotheby's print department - that higher priced set was found. In fact, it turned out to be the same one.
Sold in 1986 as from the library of the Earl of Berkeley, it returned to Sotheby's in October 1990, where it sold at £28,000 in a print sale described as the property of a gentleman of Bermuda and Kent. It seems that neither coloured nor plain has sold at auction since that time.
Internet exposure brought a lot of interest in the Holloways copy, which came from a local estate with no apparent connections with Bermuda, but it was a dealer in the room who secured the Hallewell collection at £10,500 (plus 15 per cent buyer's premium).
By Ian McKay