A rare carved pair of antique rhinoceros horns has sold for five times the estimated price after a heated bidding war at an auction in Auckland last night.
The 19th century Chinese carved horns "exceeded all expectations" when they fetched $797,300 at the Webbs Auction house.
They had been expected to sell for between $120,000 and $150,000.
"This is one of the highest prices ever achieved for antique carved rhinoceros horns globally and is the highest price ever achieved across the New Zealand antique market," a spokesman for the auction house said.
"A room full of stunned bidders watched as the price climbed while five bidders were engaged up to the $500,000 level and two bidders took it from there and fiercely fought to win the horns."
The horns were previously in the collection of Sir John Budd Phear, a Ceylon high court judge and anthropologist. His son, Gilbert Phear migrated to New Zealand in the early 20th century and the horns have been passed down through the family.
The "richly intricate decorations" on the horns represent the Chinese symbols of beauty, perseverance, healing and longevity.
It is believed there are between 3000 to 4000 carved horns worldwide.
The auction house said global demand and the scarcity of carved rhinoceros horns had driven up prices globally.
The price per kilogram now exceeds that of gold, platinum and cocaine and has fuelled a black market for the horns.
According to the International Rhino Foundation, the price of rhinoceros horn is more than $70,000 a kilogram - more than gold or platinum.
So far this year more than 700 rhinos have been killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa alone. The horns are sold on the black market for medicine and aphrodisiacs in countries such as China and Vietnam.
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