The pre-auction estimate was $40 to $60, which is where the early bidding started on the internet. The first live bid was around $4400. Fifteen minutes later, one slightly tattered page of the Koran sold under the hammer at Bargain Hunt Auctions at Thornleigh, Sydney, for $74,000.
Make that $86,000 with the buyer’s premium. “Sold!” to one of four anonymous dealers on the phone from London, who pushed out a local underbidder.
Auctioneer Mark Owens had no clues about the provenance of the double-sided, hand-painted page of the Koran, and he had no idea where the bidding would finish on Saturday.
“Without putting it to forensic analysis, it’s impossible to know,” says Mr Owens. “We’re a general auction house. We don’t really know. It could be 16th century, could be 14th century, could be 18th. It’s certainly not something from 50 or 100 years ago. But I can tell you it came in a frame that probably cost $3. And it wasn’t in great condition – a few tears.”
A few months ago, a man came to Bargain Hunt Auctions with another page from the Koran. He had bought it at an auction on the Central Coast for $10.
“I told him, ‘That’ll go all OK,’ ” Mr Owens recalls. “We thought it would go for a couple of hundred. It ended up going for $29,000, so that was a bit of a surprise.”
Word hit the grapevine. Another local came forward with a page that had been in the family for years.
“So we sent out images, and overseas, to the underbidders for the last page,” Mr Owens says.
Did they know its history? “There’s always an element of taking a punt. None of them took the opportunity to fly over and inspect it, but they wanted high-resolution photographs.”
The later bids moved in increments of about $2000 before lot No. 11 reached the hammer price of $74,000.
That stood out from the long list of other items that sold in the tens, hundreds and small thousands of dollars: the vintage shipping container, the exercise bike, the dressmaker’s model.
“But it’s not hugely decorative,” Mr Owens says of the page. “As is always with the Koran, it’s just script. There’s a few delicate highlights in gold. Very understated.”
He said the seller, who wanted to remain anonymous, was not present but he was listening over the internet.
“We got a phone call within about 30 seconds from a very happy gentleman.”
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