Decorated nautilus shell at Charles Miller
The scrimshaw-decorated nautilus shell that sold for £8500 at Charles Miller’s sale.

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The subject matter is unusual, including – alongside the Royal Arms, the Arms of the City of London and George and the Dragon – the text of the Mansion House Speech of HRH Prince Albert at The Grand Exhibition Banquet, London, March 21, 1850. A later presentation inscription is dated 1852. 

The shell measured 8in (20cm) and was offered at the May 10 auction with a £200-400 estimate.

Miller described it as a “jaw dropping result”, particularly in the light of two or three repairs. “Because of the restoration, and because collectors have hitherto insisted on perfection, I priced it very keenly. I’m guessing it was the Great Exhibition speech which was the attraction as these usually have Brunel’s ships on them.”

Elaborate Designs

Wood specialised in producing worked nautilus shells. The more elaborate examples boasted the designs were achieved only with a penknife and he claimed, too, that Queen Victoria had accepted examples of his skilled craft.

In 2010 two shells made to commemorate the launching of Brunel’s SS Great Britain in 1843 were sold: one for £780 at Charles Miller in April and another for £780 at Canterbury Auction Galleries in June. 

The buyer’s premium was 20%.