A 16th century carved limewood figure of St Vitus – €26,000 (£23,635) at Van Ham.

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For more than 10 years, until the spring of 2020, visitors to Berlin had the opportunity to see an exhibition of works of art owned by Thomas Olbricht.

One part of the show was dedicated to regularly changing exhibits of Modern and Contemporary art. The other was a Wunderkammer, a cabinet of some 300 curiosities, scientific instruments and other artefacts, primarily dating from the Renaissance to the Baroque.

After Olbricht had decided to change the focus of his collection and close his privately financed museum in the eastern part of Berlin, he consigned numerous Modern paintings and the whole Wunderkammer to Van Ham (29/25% buyer’s premium) in Cologne. The auction on September 26 turned out to be a white-glove sale.

While the Wunderkammer objects did not attract the six-figure prices attained for several of the Modern paintings on offer, substantial international interest and numerous impressive results emerged.

Sought-after pieces


A 2½in (6cm) carved ivory vanitas head – €17,000 (£15,455) at Van Ham.

Among the sought-after pieces was a carved ivory vanitas head from a rosary. The 2½in (6cm) high Janus head, with a man’s face (possibly Christ) on one side and a skull on the other, was executed in either France or Germany in the 16th or 17th century.

Bidding started at €2000, but a Dutch collector could only outpace his competitors with his successful online offer of €17,000 (£15,455).

Even more interest came for a 2ft 2in (65cm) high limewood figure of St Vitus in a cauldron of boiling oil, the work of a south German sculptor c.1520. It went to an unnamed buyer for €26,000 (£23,635), 13 times the guide.

A pair of 19th century carved bone models of the three-mast ship of the line HMS Barfleur, each 13in (34cm) long, changed hands for €14,000 (£12,730).

A Qing Dynasty carved rhinoceros horn beaker with lotus motifs found a new owner for €24,000 (£21,820).

Extinct elephant bird

This result was, however, topped by the price for the 12in (30cm) high egg of the extinct elephant bird, Aepyornis maximus, which once lived in Madagascar.

The bird, which stood almost 10ft tall, was extinct by the 17th century at the latest – possibly much earlier. Later explorers heard stories of legendary giant birds and sometimes found eggs to corroborate such tales.

This particular example was last sold by Sotheby’s in Paris in October 2012, when Olbricht bought it for €11,875 (£9500 including premium). This time, a bidder from London invested €26,000 (£23,635).

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