Georgian antique desks are nothing if not romantic – as the Antique Roadshow team discovered at Tatton Park (BBC1, November 21st ). However, it was not a desk which caught their attention, but a finely crafted silver desk set which may have been a gift to Lord Nelson from his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton. The inkstand was discovered among the antique desks in a showroom. Fashioned with elaborate nautical detailing, what had caught the buyer’s eye was the simple but telling engraving: “Horatio, From Emma.”
The set was hallmarked in 1805, the year Nelson died, pointing to a possible hoax. However, this didn’t happen until October, meaning Emma could have purchased it before he went to sea. The Antiques Roadshow pointed to the hallmark of J. Eames, a master craftsman known to have produced work for Lord Nelson, as another point in its favour. The owner had certainly thought it was the real deal – she had given the salesman £15,000 for it.
The ornate set depicts a classical figure supporting a finely crafted anchor taper stick. Celestial and terrestrial globes open to reveal compartments for ink and sand, the whole being supported by extravagant fish-like dolphins. Nautical maybe, but is that signature equally as fishy? If it can be substantiated, then the owner can expect to make £40,000 to £50,000 at auction. If not, she’ll recoup around £6,000 of her outlay.
It will be nice if the National Maritime Museum can substantiate the piece. Dealers of antique desks in Cumbria often have handsome inkstands lurking among their antique desks, but generally their history is a lot less florid than a role in the greatest love affair of the 18th century.
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