Sword-pistol belonging to Nelson’s closest companion up for auction at Cuttlestones

Few historic figures command such reverence as Lord Horatio Nelson. Over 200 years after the great British naval hero was mortally wounded in action at the Battle of Trafalgar, his influence is such that items linked to him are highly prized by an international community of collectors.

The sword-pistol of Nelson interest

One such item is set to come up for auction in Staffordshire this December following a period on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, where it was on loan from the current vendor. An impressive military antique in its own right, the weapon is question is a flintlock combined 54-bore box-lock over-and-under tap-action pistol with attached 69.4cm blade, originally purchased from the sale of the Alexander Davison Collection at Sotheby’s on the 21st October 2002.

Davison, eight years Nelson’s senior and having amassed a fortune as a shipbuilder and Government contractor during the American Wars, was his closest friend and trusted advisor in civilian affairs. Their friendship spanned over two decades and, as one of the four principal members of Nelson’s household, Davison broke his white stave of office to be placed on the admiral’s coffin at his funeral.

However, Davison’s duty to Nelson did not end with his death. When, on Tuesday 17th December 1805, just days after its historic victory, the British fleet carrying its stricken leader reached the Nore at the mouth of the Thames, the Admiral’s personal effects were removed and examined at Davison’s house in St James’s Square. In the presence of Nelson’s brother William, recently ennobled as first Earl Nelson and William Haslewood, the Admiral’s solicitor, both of whom were executors to Nelson’s will, the various ‘Money, Coins in Lord Nelson’s pocket purse and when killed’ were examined, recorded and then entrusted to Davison as treasurer.

In January 1806, Davison took care of 120 cases of the late Admiral’s effects, which were landed at Chatham where the Victory was taken for her refit, and the dispersal of these various objects then became the responsibility of the Executors. Davison himself suffered a fall from grace in later life – serving 21 months in Newgate Prison and a hefty fine of £8,800, or roughly £500,000 in today’s money, having been found guilty of falsifying financial documents. Upon release he lived quietly in Brighton until his death in 1829.

The silver-mounted D.B. Flintlock tap-action sword-pistol, circa 1805-06, by HW Mortimer of London and bearing the maker’s mark CF, was purchased by the current vendor after it was consigned to sale at Sotheby’s in 2002 by an overseas family of Davison’s direct descent as part of the Estate of Alexander Davison Esq. It is being offered for sale with the original Sotheby’s sale catalogue, two prints depicting Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar and a copy of Martyn Downer’s book, ‘Nelson’s Purse’. The tome details the story of the great find of the Nelson treasure trove together with the backdrop of Davison’s fascinating life and details of Nelson’s relationships with both his wife and his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton.

Ben Gamble, MD & Head Auctioneer at Cuttlestones Auctioneers & Valuers, which will handle the sale, says:

“This is a truly exceptional piece of British history with a very interesting back story. It is a very fine, rare item in its own right – pistols of this period and quality and by makers of this caliber do not often come up for sale and its links to Nelson are only set to broaden its appeal. To say we’re excited by the prospect of selling this piece is an understatement!”

The pistol will sell at Cuttlestones’ two day Fine Art & Antique Sale on Friday, 7th December at its Penkridge Auction Room in Staffordshire. Live online, commission and telephone bidding options are available for those unable to attend the sale in person. For further information, call 01785 714905 or visit www.cuttlestones.co.uk

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