- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

LONDON Long-lost memorabilia from Adm. Horatio Nelson, including love letters from the British naval hero's mistress and a blood-stained purse with the gold coins he carried to his death at the Battle of Trafalgar, were sold yesterday for more than $3.3 million in a sale that was described as "an auctioneer's dream."

The possessions went under the hammer in 93 lots at Sotheby's auction house in London 197 years to the day after Nelson defeated a Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar, only to be killed by a sniper's bullet that afternoon aboard his flagship, HMS Victory.

The Nelson collection fetched three times the $1.1 million that experts had predicted. The silk purse, still carrying the 21 gold guineas that the admiral had dropped into it just before the warships opened fire west of Cape Trafalgar, went for $419,000. Preauction estimates had suggested a maximum bid of about $125,000.

Horatio Nelson is regarded as Britain's greatest naval hero he placed among the top 10 Britons of all time in a poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Corp. two days ago and items attached to his life and memory regularly attract premium prices.

The Sotheby's collection had an extraordinary attraction born of its historic importance. It had sat untouched and undiscovered for nearly two centuries, until a Sotheby's jewelry expert on an insurance-valuation mission was invited to view some possessions at the home of a descendent of Alexander Davison, Nelson's financial adviser.

The interest of the Sotheby's expert, Martyn Downer, was piqued by a diamond-studded brooch of anchor design bearing the initials "H" and "N."

"It quickly became apparent that the family that owned it had links to Horatio Nelson," he told journalists.

On a return visit to the family home, Mr. Downer was astounded.

"There on the table were a dispatch box and a trunk, which had not been opened for nearly 200 years. Inside were hundreds of letters and account books, truly historic papers covering Nelson's life and achievements."

Then, "as I was preparing to leave," he said, "one last item was shown to me. It was Nelson's purse," caked with blood. The family "had never opened it."

Mr. Downer did, and out tumbled the 21 gold guineas that the admiral took with him to his death. With the coins, he said, was "a very fragile document which details the money which Nelson had on him when he was killed at Trafalgar."

At the auction, the diamond anchor brooch that started it all went to a bid of $249,000, nearly double its estimate. But even that was topped by the $521,800 that purchased an historic French First Empire officer's sword that Nelson had bequeathed to Davison.

Of poignant interest were the stacks of letters, 72 of them from Nelson's wife, Frances, to Davison, tearful missives over her husband's widely known affair with Lady Emma Hamilton.

And there were other letters, from Emma herself to her lover. One, signed "ever your affectionate Emma Hamilton," was sold for $9,260. Another, signed "ever your obli'd E. Hamilton," fetched $13,890.

A third, signaling her evident concern for her hero away fighting a war, was signed simply "ever your affectionate but agitated Emma Hamilton." That drew a top bid of $5,186.

But it was Nelson's own signature that the buyers wanted most. One letter with his autograph, to Davison, sold for $48,150.

The event at Sotheby's was hailed as one of the auction world's events of the year.

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