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For the less intrinsically valuable flag and the Colt semi-automatic pistol also offered, however, provenance was all-important.

The 11ft 8in x ft 8in (3.56 x 1.72m) Union Flag centred by the logo of the British South Africa Company had draped the coffin of Cecil Rhodes, a founder of the company and still-controversial empire-builder, at his lying-in-state in Bulawayo in 1902.

Given to his business and personal friend Sir Thomas Smart after the funeral in Matabeleland, the documented flag was consigned to the Norfolk gun specialist by a descendant of Sir Thomas. At Holts’ quarterly sale (held at the Blackheath venue in south London) on September 20, it sold to a UK collector at a lower-estimate £4000.

Conan Doyle Colt

The ‘1902 Military Colt’ dated 1915-16 more than doubled its normal value. It featured a fully researched provenance to Arthur Conan Doyle, to whom it was given in 1919 by the widow of his brother, Brigadier Innes Doyle.

When the Firearms Act was passed in 1921, Conan Doyle, rather than surrender the pistol to the authorities, put it in a strong box with his solicitors. There it remained forgotten until reorganisation at the solicitors brought it to light in 1974.

The box was bought by a collector/dealer and ultimately the gun and documents came to Holts where it sold to a European collector at £4000.