As part of our continuing series on luxury investments and “door openers” with clients, Keith Heddle of Stanley Gibbons gives us investment insight into the historical document market:
The case for protecting your clients’ wealth in these troubled times is a clear one. Diversify and minimise risk – you know the drill.
Peter Temple in the Financial Times last week wrote an article headed, “Sign of the times as autograph values rise,” championing what he calls, “profitable passions”.
Today we present what we and a growing number of investors and financial commentators believe to be a stable, medium-term investment option. It’s stability comes from the lack of correlation with other mainstream investments, markets and asset classes.
But that’s not all.
We also offer you the chance of owning your own piece of history. Investments that not only offer you the potential for strong returns, but also a sense of pride and unique emotional connection (apart from my very first one, I certainly haven’t had that from a share certificate!)
“Autographs can change hands for big money” writes Peter Temple in the FT. “Some rarer signatures have risen sixfold in value”.
And a remarkable set of rare signatures is exactly what I have for you today.
The three pieces pertain to key points in Nelson’s life, almost acting as a ‘life and times’ commentary for the great naval commander.
Historical memorabilia relating to Lord Nelson is strongly in demand by collectors and historians alike. Unsurprisingly a lot of items are held in national museums, but Nelson-centric auctions are vibrant.
Nelson’s letters, snuff boxes, buttons, canon balls, even pieces of his hair are in high demand, making an investment in high quality Nelson material potentially very liquid (relatively speaking of course).
Certain items do stand out, however, because of their particular historical importance.
That’s what makes the three pieces I want to share with you today so special.
Did you know that Nelson was close to his deathbed in 1780?
Long before his successes in the Napoleonic Wars, Nelson was a captain in the West Indies and found himself in very poor health.
“Reduced quite to a skeleton, we are of the opinion his remaining here will be attended with fatal consequences” wrote his medical officers.
Nelson was heading home. It was the news that he wanted to hear. His delight was obvious when he wrote to his dear friend Hercules Ross:
“Life revives within me. I shall recover and my dream of glory shall be fulfilled. Nelson will yet be an admiral.” Prophetic words indeed.
Nelson being sent home set him on the path to becoming the naval hero he is known as today. His letter, written in 1780 when he was just 21 years old, underlined the burning desire that would drive him on to become Admiral Lord Nelson.
A letter with this sort of content has such historical significance; it’s the perfect trophy collectible.
Nelson wrote lots of letters, but key ones fetch high prices. For example, a letter to Lord Barnham announcing the Battle of Nile victory sold at auction for £52,500 in 2007.
Another letter to Lord Barnham prior to Battle of Trafalgar sold at auction for £68,750 in 2005 – but perhaps the most extraordinary was a letter to Emma Hamilton describing an erotic dream, which sold for £125,000.
This second piece is quite remarkable. It is probably the best-known document in all naval history of Britain.
The document is the war memorandum from 1805 in which Nelson sets out his tactics for the forthcoming Battle of Trafalgar. In his letter to Emma Hamilton, Nelson called it “The Nelson Touch” and that is how it is remembered in history.
In this memorandum, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson explains to the 34 captains he was leading, his plans for engaging the allied French and Spanish fleet. The essence of Nelson’s plan, now regarded as a masterpiece of naval strategy, is indicated at the bottom of the right-hand page.
The fleet was to be drawn up ‘in two lines of 16 ships each with an advanced squadron’ of eight of the fastest sailing ships. The intention was, as Nelson states on the left-hand page, ‘to overpower [the enemy line] from two or three ships ahead of their Commander-in-Chief supposed to be in the Centre to the Rear of their Fleet’.
Here is the famous memorandum:
The memorandum was written up following two meetings Nelson held with his captains on the Victory on 29 September 1805.
A clerk wrote up the plans, had them signed by Nelson and sent them to each of the 34 captains in advance of the upcoming Battle of Trafalgar. This particular copy was sent to Sir Robert Calder who commanded the 98-gun ship the Prince of Wales.
The original draft in Nelson’s hand is held in the British library and out of 34 copies we have seen only 3 available in previous public sales. The Royal Naval Museum and Nelson Museum do not own any of the copies.
You can own something that people can’t even see in a museum.
It is available for £275,000.
Tragically, Nelson was mortally wounded at the moment of his greatest triumph.
Shot on the deck of the Victory on 21 October 1805, Nelson had steered his fleet to one of the most famous victories in naval history.
I can offer you an account of Nelson’s death written and signed by the Chief Surgeon on the Victory, Sir William Beatty.
Beatty’s account, published in 1807 is regarded as the most authoritative. He wrote:
“On his being brought below he complained of Acute pain about a sixth and seventh Dorsal Vetebra, of privation of sense and motion of the body and inferior extremities, his Respiration short and difficult, pulse weak, small and irregular; he frequently declared his back was shot through; that he felt every instant a Gush of blood within his breast; and that he had sensations which indicated to him the approach of death…when Victory as signal was announced to him, he expressed his pious acknowledgements thereof and heartfelt satisfaction at the Glorious event in the most emphatic language, he then delivered his last orders with his usual precision and in a few minutes afterwards expired without a struggle…”
Available for £37,500.
This 3 piece collection is remarkable. It’s a fitting anthology to celebrate the life of the great naval commander that was Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson.
A research project by the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Navy Museum into unpublished Nelson letters has shed new light on the man; Nelson owed his success in battle as much to his skills as a ‘man-manger’, as to tactical innovation.
Another insight that emerges from the letters is the scale and detail of Nelson’s interest in all those who served with him. Nelson displayed throughout his career a close personal interest in individuals.
When the news of his death spread through the British fleet after Trafalgar, many of his men broke down and cried, emphasising the connection Nelson had with his troops.
Today you have a chance to own a piece of history and to secure what may prove to be an excellent investment. These are items of significance and quality; age will not diminish them – on the contrary, their value is likely to increase as the years pass.
This is an investment opportunity for you, but it’s so much more than that.
- These are Nelson items of key importance
- They have been off the market for over 20 years
- Liquidity is good as Nelson material is in high demand in the salerooms
- Nelson, along with Churchill, is one of the few British historical figures with worldwide appeal
As Malcolm Forbes of Forbes magazine said, “None of my other investments give me the joy that autographs do because they make me feel that I am holding a piece of history in my hands.”
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