Those pockets are for holding dispatches, and the late 18th century chair was one given by Lady (Emma) Hamilton to her lover, Lord Nelson. It is believed to be Nelson’s favourite armchair in his state cabin on board HMS Victory, his flagship at Trafalgar on October 21, 1815.
On October 18, 202 years later, after a fierce bidding contest inevitably described by the auctioneers at Bonhams (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) as a “Trafalgar-type battle”, it sold for £85,000 against an estimate of £30,000-50,000.
The George III mahogany bergere with rectangular back, sides and seat upholstered in original leather, on square tapering legs and brass casters, was secured by a private UK buyer in the room.
In 1891 a catalogue entry for the Royal Naval Exhibition, Chelsea, said the chair was “lent by Thomas St Leger Blaauw Esq”. A plaque at the front – based on the longer 1891 entry – says that after Nelson’s death at Trafalgar it was “bought on board the Victory” by Admiral Sir Francis Laforey Bart, “he being at that time a Middy [midshipman] on board”. In fact, Sir Francis was captain of the Spartiate at Trafalgar.
It was left by him ”to his sister Mrs Molloy and given by her daughter-in-law, Mrs Molloy, to her brother W.H.Blaauw of Beechland”.
The chair was sold in 1920 by ‘J.Rochelle Thomas of King Street, St James’s’.
An advertisement in the Connoisseur of January 1920 which offered the chair for £200 has a photograph showing that it already had the engraved brass plaque, and mentions that it had been in the Blaauw family until 1919 when it was purchased at the disposal of the contents of Beechland.
This armchair was sold at Christie’s on October 23, 1980, to J&J May. It went to a private collector.