Coin News

Volume 39, Number 8, August 2002

It's always worth looking

Volume 39, Number 8, August 2002

It was announced early last month that a sword, a brooch and a bloodstained purse containing 21 guineas and half guineas all belonging to Lord Nelson, along with scores of letters from Lady Hamilton, Nelson’s mistress, had been discovered in an attic following a routine insurance valuation. The small collection is expected to fetch in excess of £1 million when it comes up for sale on October 21, Trafalgar Day. The coins, with a face value of £14 were thought to have been on Nelson’s person when he was killed at Trafalgar, they were removed from his body before it was preserved ready for return to England and sent to Alexander Davison, Nelson’s oldest friend and executor of his will. The present owners of the collection are said to be descendants of Davison although it is understood that they now live abroad. The purpose of including this snippet of information in my “Comment” rather than the “News” is simply to show how, even now with everybody seemingly aware of the value of coins or other items, with programmes like the Antiques Roadshow around and everybody trying to make a “quick buck” choice items are still being discovered. To talk to some collectors, even dealers, you would think all the good coins are already out there and it is just a case of chasing them around lists, auctions and dealers trays watching as their prices spiral ever upwards but this is plainly not the case and rare and interesting items are still to be found in the attics, under the floorboards and in the desk drawers of the world. Certainly the discovery of the Davison Archive is not an everyday occurrence but that isn’t to say such an event won’t happen again. There has been a belief in recent years that because of increased education and awareness most things that were “lost” will have been rediscovered by now, be they paintings, brooches or coins, after all most people now would recognise a Van Gogh style painting and might well get that old and dusty picture in the garage checked out if it had the hall marks of the master but, as has been proved with this discovery that often just doesn’t happen. In this case the owners of the archive even knew they were descended from a contemporary, indeed a friend, of Nelson and yet hadn’t really given thought to the importance of these items, so how much more chance is there that a pile of old coins sitting gathering dust in an old cash box in an attic in Streatham with owners who know nothing about their history or value might well contain a 1905 halfcrown or shilling, a 1945 silver threepenny piece or even that missing 1933 penny. Of course the chances are that the halcrowns are all 1945, the three pennies all 1933s and the pennies a mixture of anything and everything worth nothing but then that is the beauty of this hobby, that is what makes it all the more interesting –if we knew what we were going to get every time we looked through a “junk tray” or every time a bag of copper was given to us to sift through we probably wouldn’t bother but there is always that outside chance, always that exciting possibility that this time, out of all the hundreds of times we’ve done it before, this time there might just be something to make our eyes light up, something that makes it all worthwhile. After all you can guarantee that the Sotheby’s valuer who went out to a “routine insurance valuation” didn’t expect to find what he did and it is worth remembering Nelson’s treasure next time you are in your local antique shop, rummaging through a market stall on a wet Sunday or ploughing through the bag of post war silver that Aunty Mabel was saving for a rainy day – after all you never know what you may stumble across. Happy rummaging.

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