Yesterday's Annabel's sale at Christie's – the prices! If any student of the art market needs proof that 'Provenance is King', here it is: the ‘Upholstered Club Fender (Modern)' fetched a staggering £17,500, the 'George VI Red Painted Letterbox' £6,000, the 'Brass and Lacquered Wood Large Pepper Mill (Modern)’ £3,500, the 'Annabel's Dance Floor, Late 20th Century' £15,000, the 'White Ceramic Gentleman's Urinal with Shanks Cistern (Modern)' £3,250.

The interior of Annabel’s, which opened in 1963 in the basement of No. 44 Berkeley Square. Photo: Christian Voigt via Christie’s The interior of Annabel’s, which opened in 1963 in the basement of No. 44 Berkeley Square. Photo: Christian Voigt via Christie’s

But for any seasoned auction watcher, this was always going to be so. In these one-of-a-kind, single-owner sales (witness Sotheby's Jacqueline Kennedy sale in 1996) everyday objects acquire an almost mystical aura. All a professional auction specialist can do is to allocate ‘come and get it’ guesstimates at reasonable prices, and then sit back and watch the fun.

It's all about association. It's about memory. It’s about buying a slice of the magic. Seven months ago, a savvy collector might have purchased a set of Nicholas Garland's fourteen framed linocuts (limited edition of 250, commissioned by Mark Birley for Annabel's) for £300 hammer at Cheffins. Yesterday afternoon, a buyer was prepared to pay £20,000 (including commission) for the very same set. The difference? That one's there. And that one's here. It's as simple as that.

Portrait of Mark Birley. Photo: Vanityfair.com Portrait of Mark Birley. Photo: Vanityfair.com

Mark Birley founded Annabel's in 1963, the year of Christine Keeler, Stephen Ward and John Profumo. The early idea was to open a simple piano bar named after his wife, Annabel (later Lady Annabel Goldsmith), but his plans soon became more ambitious. With the help of the architect, Philip Jebb, Birley turned an unpromising, windowless, but vaulted, basement cellar (situated directly beneath John Aspinall's Clermont Club at 44 Berkeley Square) into London's most fashionable and exclusive nightspot: a place where the worlds of aristocratic society and 1960s London collided. And this was no ordinary nightclub: as a perfectionist (and the son of a distinguished society artist), Birley had a terrific eye: he decorated the club with his own distinctive, and very discreet, taste.

Birley’s eclectic art collection, including Sir Alfred James Munnings, ‘Study of a Grey Horse’ (left under the lamp) and Glyn Warren Philpot, ‘Henry Thomas: Head Studies’, c. 1929 (hanging in the alcove). Photo: Christie’s Birley’s eclectic art collection, including Sir Alfred James Munnings, ‘Study of a Grey Horse’ (left under the lamp) and Glyn Warren Philpot, ‘Henry Thomas: Head Studies’, c. 1929 (hanging in the alcove). Photo: Christie’s

The Fireplace Sitting Room, decorated with the help of Nina Campbell, resembled the drawing room of an English Country House. Deep upholstery, club fenders, ragged walls in an earthy yellow, paintings by Modern British luminaries such as Augustus John (Portrait of a Lady, £27,500), Glyn Warren Philpot (Negro Sitting, £368,750), Sir William Orpen (Night, £118,750), Sir Alfred James Munnings (Study of a Grey Horse, £242,750), and Sir William Nicholson (Gurnards, £102,500).

The Buddha Room at Annabel’s, featuring the legendary bodhisattva. Photo: Christian Voigt via Christie’s The Buddha Room at Annabel’s, featuring the legendary bodhisattva. Photo: Christian Voigt via Christie’s

The Buddha Room, which led off a charming bar (lined with fabulous early H. M. Bateman cartoons), boasted a spectacular Bodhisattva (£137,500), acquired by Birley in 1979; enlivened by a collection of original stage, costume and set designs for the Ballet Russes: Alexandre Benois (Set design for Petrouchka, £21,250), Leon Bakst (Set designs for Aladdin, £20,000), Pavel Tchelitchew (Costume Designs for Oriental Dancers, £27,500); set off against vaulted walls of glossy burnt orange.

Pavel Tchelitchew, ‘Two Costume Designs for Dancing Girls’, 1920. Photo: Christie’s Pavel Tchelitchew, ‘Two Costume Designs for Dancing Girls’, 1920. Photo: Christie’s

Mr. Birley viewed his clubs with the eye of a discriminating punter, rather than as an owner, and this, perhaps, was the key to his success. And, refreshingly, I suspect, he didn't give a fig what other people thought: witness the numerous garish dog paintings lining the staircase to the terrace bar.

There was a weakness for graphics too (a legacy from Birley’s days at J. Walter Thompson?) and a taste for original early 20th-century skiing posters, bringing to mind well-heeled winter holidays from the age of leisure. Andreas Farkas's Modiano poster (c. 1930), (found in a nook near the dance floor, and perhaps, the most striking of all the Annabel's posters), fetched £193,750 – against an estimate of £1,000-1,500.

In 2007, Mark Birley sold the Birley Group (including Mark's Club, Harry's Bar, the Bath and Racquets Club, and his non-private art collection ) to Richard Caring. Annabel's carried on as before, but the glory days of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s were over. Tastes change, and – for good or bad – the world moves on (or backwards, depending on your point of view). New Annabel's (two doors down, at 46 Berkeley Square) opened its doors earlier this year, catering for a younger, starrier crowd, financed by the money of the international newly rich, a brave new world in which a faded watercolour of Florian's (chipped gilt-wood frame) by Royal Academician, John Ward; or a William IV mahogany side chair (velvet upholstery worn) holds no charm.

The Annabel’s sale at Christie’s. Photo: Luke Honey Ltd The Annabel’s sale at Christie’s. Photo: Luke Honey Ltd

The Christie's view opened its doors last Friday: the first and last chance for the general public to descend the hallowed, green-tented staircase. The deserted basement, air-conditioned and slightly shabby, held a melancholy atmosphere, reminding me of a montage in Jack Clayton's The Great Gatsby (1974): empty ballrooms, ghostly dance music, bouncing laughter against frosted glass. Old Annabel's has gone, and the basement at 44 Berkeley Square is to be re-developed. But for once, that old chestnut, 'it's an end of an era', seems more than appropriate.

Shop all furniture and design at auction on Barnebys