The buyer of a letter purportedly written by Captain Thomas Hardy from HMS Victory six days after the Battle of Trafalgar has belatedly received a full refund after it proved to be a facsimile of a letter in a public collection.
On November 6, 2004, London rare book dealers Maggs Bros
successfully bid £13,800 (£15,525 including buyer's premium) for
the apparently important letter offered by Buckinghamshire
auctioneers Dickins of Middle Clayton.
Framed under glass and written on a single folio of wove paper, 11
x 145/8in (28 x 37cm), and dated October 27, 1805, it was addressed
to Hardy's brother-in-law, Dorchester lawyer John Manfield. Its
opening lines read: "We have on the 21st obtained a most Glorious
Victory over the Combined Fleets but it has cost the country a life
that no money can replace and for whose Death I shall forever
mourn…" The letter had first came to light 99 years ago when it
featured in a Nelson and Trafalgar exhibition in Dorchester and,
rather more recently, attracted wide interest when it was featured
on an episode of BBC's Antiques Roadshow.
Clouding the legal issues of caveat emptor (buyer beware) that
still govern the auction process, doubts regarding the authenticity
of lot 573 had been expressed to auctioneer John Dickins prior to
An expert in postal history had, among other points, questioned
both the immaculate strike of the postmark and the presence of a
heavy vertical crease that was inconsistent with the survival of an
unbroken wax seal.
However, others who viewed the letter had been convinced of its
integrity and no presale announcement regarding these doubts was
Magg Bros' representatives had been happy when viewing the letter
under glass prior to the sale and had subsequently bought it over
the telephone well above the £5000-8000 estimate.
However, doubts appeared after purchase when the document was
removed from its frame and it quickly emerged that the letter was a
facsimile created from the book Nelson's Hardy by Broadley and
The original letter is on view at the Dorset County Record
Negotiations between Maggs and Mr Dickins lasted for several
months before a settlement was reached. Both parties say they
incurred substantial legal fees.
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