Signed Mao Zedong letter – £420,000 at Sotheby’s.

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Other than signatures in albums, the saleroom could cite only some late manuscript notes and a typed but signed letter to Clement Atlee that sold a few years ago in Sotheby’s own rooms at £500,000, and a small group of letters and documents relating to his dealings with a Manchurian warlord seen at Bonhams New York in 2013.

What Sotheby’s could offer here was something altogether different, and a reminder – in a letter containing family news sent in the late 1940s to a journalist and trusted friend, Yang Yi – that Mao was celebrated as a master calligrapher in his lifetime, his writing widely displayed on public buildings.

Executed on thin laid paper and still with the makeshift envelope formed from a discarded fragment of a printed map, it sold at £420,000.