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The ‘finest fighting’ medal takes £115,000 at Spink

05 August 2013Written by Tom Derbyshire

A medal given to a remarkable sailor who was given the honour of conveying Napoleon to exile in Elba in 1813 as a reward for his daring exploits in the Royal Navy has made a record price.

The KCH and five-clasp Naval General Service Medal group awarded to Rear Admiral of the Blue* Sir Thomas Ussher went well above the £40,000-50,000 estimate to sell to a private collector for £115,000 at Spink (20% buyer's premium) of London on July 25; a new high for an NGSM.

Ussher could be straight out of a Patrick O'Brian or Hornblower novel, as a brave and bold commander in the Napoleonic Wars, frequently putting himself at the heart of the action at close quarters.

For example, he once reconnoitred the entire French fleet in Brest harbour on his own initiative, entering the harbour in a gig under the cover of darkness.

He was only discovered when his four-oared vessel was next to the French admiral's ship... Ussher made good his escape from three boats and 11 pursuing gun-brigs.

Two people in the room at Spink were fighting it out on the day in the bidding battle, said specialist Oliver Pepys. "We had one chap on the phone to start with but he dropped out at about £70,000 and these two people kept going and it made it a hell of a price."

Price Differentials

NGSMs - instituted in 1847 and issued a year later to surviving claimants of 1793-1840 naval actions - generally make around £2000-5000 for very good clasp combinations and perhaps up to £10,000 for sailors who served at Trafalgar, and beyond £15,000 or so for HMS Victory.

For campaign medals such as the NGSM, which are relatively common, the clasps signifying the individual actions are everything when it comes to value and Ussher's had five awards: 1 June 1794 (Glorious First of June - 583 issued), Redwing 7 May 1808 (seven), Redwing 31 May 1808 (seven), Malaga 29 April 1812 (18), 2 May Boat Service 1813 (48).

The Royal Guelphic Order, Military Division, Knight Commander's (KCH) set of Insignia accompanying it - a neck badge and a star - gave a unique combination.

Mr Pepys said: "The KCH is a nice bonus but I think the money was all in the NGSM. It is probably the finest fighting NGSM that has appeared on the market certainly in the last 20 years or so, and this was a chap whose career spanned virtually the whole Napoleonic wars.

"It appealed on so many levels. There have only been a handful of five-clasp NGSMs on sale in the last 20 years.

"The two Redwing clasps are incredibly scarce so from the numismatic point of view alone there is the rarity and then you put that story with it and it becomes a very special record."

In 2010 Spink sold the Chris Turl collection of 93 NGSM lots and Mr Pepys said: "We thought that might have been a slight problem because there had been predominantly two main buyers and he was one, with both competing.

"So, with the main buyer out of the equation were things going to slow down? It had the opposite effect. The medals in this sale were taken up by new collectors who have then taken this on to a new level." The previous NGSM record was thought to have been £70,000-75,000, Mr Pepys said.

 

* Rear Admiral 'of the Blue' refers to the way fleets were at the time divided into three squadrons and each one given colours: red, white and blue.

The KCH and five-clasp Naval General Service Medal group awarded to Rear Admiral of the Blue* Sir Thomas Ussher went well above the £40,000-50,000 estimate to sell to a private collector for £115,000 at Spink (20% buyer's premium) of London on July 25; a new high for an NGSM.

Ussher could be straight out of a Patrick O'Brian or Hornblower novel, as a brave and bold commander in the Napoleonic Wars, frequently putting himself at the heart of the action at close quarters.

For example, he once reconnoitred the entire French fleet in Brest harbour on his own initiative, entering the harbour in a gig under the cover of darkness.

He was only discovered when his four-oared vessel was next to the French admiral's ship... Ussher made good his escape from three boats and 11 pursuing gun-brigs.

Two people in the room at Spink were fighting it out on the day in the bidding battle, said specialist Oliver Pepys. "We had one chap on the phone to start with but he dropped out at about £70,000 and these two people kept going and it made it a hell of a price."

Price Differentials

NGSMs - instituted in 1847 and issued a year later to surviving claimants of 1793-1840 naval actions - generally make around £2000-5000 for very good clasp combinations and perhaps up to £10,000 for sailors who served at Trafalgar, and beyond £15,000 or so for HMS Victory.

For campaign medals such as the NGSM, which are relatively common, the clasps signifying the individual actions are everything when it comes to value and Ussher's had five awards: 1 June 1794 (Glorious First of June - 583 issued), Redwing 7 May 1808 (seven), Redwing 31 May 1808 (seven), Malaga 29 April 1812 (18), 2 May Boat Service 1813 (48).

The Royal Guelphic Order, Military Division, Knight Commander's (KCH) set of Insignia accompanying it - a neck badge and a star - gave a unique combination.

Mr Pepys said: "The KCH is a nice bonus but I think the money was all in the NGSM. It is probably the finest fighting NGSM that has appeared on the market certainly in the last 20 years or so, and this was a chap whose career spanned virtually the whole Napoleonic wars.

"It appealed on so many levels. There have only been a handful of five-clasp NGSMs on sale in the last 20 years.

"The two Redwing clasps are incredibly scarce so from the numismatic point of view alone there is the rarity and then you put that story with it and it becomes a very special record."

In 2010 Spink sold the Chris Turl collection of 93 NGSM lots and Mr Pepys said: "We thought that might have been a slight problem because there had been predominantly two main buyers and he was one, with both competing.

"So, with the main buyer out of the equation were things going to slow down? It had the opposite effect. The medals in this sale were taken up by new collectors who have then taken this on to a new level." The previous NGSM record was thought to have been £70,000-75,000, Mr Pepys said.

* Rear Admiral 'of the Blue' refers to the way fleets were at the time divided into three squadrons and each one given colours: red, white and blue.

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