The first China-made firearm with imperial markings ever to be offered at an auction was sold for 1.895 million pounds ($2.5 million), the auction house Sotheby's London announced in a statement on Wednesday.
The antique musket, which was manufactured in imperial workshops, was created for the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty, which was regarded as the greatest collector and patron of the arts in Chinese history, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
Estimated at 1 million to 1.5 million pounds ($1.33 million t0 $1.99 million), the musket sparked a 10-minute bidding war before finally being sold to a private collector.
"This gun ranks as one of the most significant Chinese treasures ever to come to auction. Today's result will be remembered alongside landmark sales of other extraordinary objects that epitomize the pinnacle of imperial craftsmanship during the Qing dynasty," Robert Bradlow, senior director of Chinese Works of Art at Sotheby's London, told Xinhua.
"Over the last 10 years we've seen the market for historical Chinese works of art go from strength to strength, with collectors drawn from across the globe and exceptional prices achieved whether the sale is staged in London, Hong Kong or New York," he added.
The firearm bears the marks of the Qianlong Emperor on top of its barrel and, incised on the breech of the barrel, are four Chinese characters that denote the gun as "Supreme Grade, Number One." The grading makes it unique amongst the known extant guns from imperial workshops and one of the most important firearms in the Emperor Qianlong's armory.
Sotheby's London said the introduction of Western firearm technology in China ignited the production of muskets in imperial workshops, which had unquestionable advantages over the traditional bow and arrow for hunting.
Using only the most exquisite materials, imperial firearms were created in extremely limited quantities for Emperor Qianlong. And while experts find it unlikely for the Emperor to have held a gun in battle, he is said to have regularly hunted with a musket.
Sotheby's said the "Number One" firearm is closely related to six famous imperial Qianlong muskets in the collection of the Beijing Palace Museum, which were said to have been graded in the same manner as the gun but with a lower grade or number.
One of the most powerful leaders of ancient China, Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) reigned for 59 years (1736-1795) as the longest-lived and de-facto longest-reigning emperor in Chinese history.