Medal News

Volume 40, Number 7, August 2002

Forgotten Treasures

Volume 40, Number 7, 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. What hasn’t been generally announced is that the collection also included a number of important medallic items including seven “Davison’s Medal for the battle of the Nile” (two gold – one cased, two silver, one bronze-gilt and two bronze) and perhaps more interestingly a gold Earl St. Vincent's medal, in glazed mount and named to Alexander Davison himself, this piece alone is estimated at £10,000-15,000 with the two gold Nile medals expected to fetch even higher prices (both are estimated at between £17,500 and £22,500) 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, medals etc, 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 interesting medals are already out there and it is just a case of chasing them around lists, auctions and dealers tables 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, coins or medals, 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 group of old medals sitting gathering dust in an tin box in an attic somewhere with owners who know nothing much about them might well include something of real value and/or historical interest. Of course the chances are that such medals turn out to be nothing more than BWMs to the RA or similar but even then all is not lost, after all what else was that soldier entitled to? Was he one of the “Old Contemptibles”? Is his 1914 Star out there somewhere? What action did he see? Was he present one rain soaked morning when his CO won the VC, did he himself go on, in some foolhardy recklessly brave act, to win an MM or even receive a battlefield commission? When you first pick up that medal you don’t know and only through careful research is the truth revealed; 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 we scanned the rim of a QSA 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 or rummaging through a market stall on a wet Sunday – after all you never know what you may stumble across. Happy rummaging.

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