But of all the names on offer, probably the most talked about was that of Duleep Singh (1838-93), the son of the founder of the Sikh Empire, Maharajah Ranjit Singh.
After the maharajah’s death in 1839, the Punjab disintegrated into a chaotic power struggle and in 1849 proved easy pickings for the British and the East India Company.
Duleep, nominal maharajah since 1843, was captured and later, aged 15, was exiled to the UK. He was treated like the royal prince he was, became a great favourite of Victoria, given a considerable pension and lived as a wealthy aristocrat.
But he was still an exile and barred from returning to India. It is tempting to think of the Victorian ballad title ‘bird in a gilded cage’, particularly as it was his love of watching his falcons flying free which connected him to the sale.
Return to finder
This was a hawk bell inscribed HRH Prince Duleep Singh, Mulgrave Castle along with a £2 reward offer to the finder of the bird who would return it alive to the country house near Whitby where the prince lived from 1858-62.
The reward, about £200 in today’s money, was considerably above the nominal value of the 1¼in (3cm) long, white metal bell which would have been tied to the bird’s leg.
Objects connected with a personal connection to Duleep Singh carry great resonance in the Sikh community and are often keenly contested in the salerooms. This bell was estimated at just £80-120 but attracted wide interest from the sub-continent and the UK.
Bidding in the room took off, led by a loudly enthusiastic Indian bidder, but the bell finally went to the Netherlands at £5500.