Nelson gave the tortoiseshell composition snuff box to George Unwin in Sicily in late 1798 or early 1799, according to a manuscript letter written by Unwin’s son included with the sale of the box.
The correspondence read: “My Father had either lost his own snuff box on going ashore or in some shop in Palermo and upon mentioning the circumstances at Lady Hamilton’s table where Lord Nelson was one of the party his Lordship handed over to him this identical box and desired him to keep it until he could get a better one.”
The box, which features a miniature watercolour scene of the Amalfi coast on the top, later passed down to Unwin’s own son George and then by descent through the family for several generations.
Paul Fraser Collectables described the piece as a “beautiful and rare item from one of Britain’s most famous heroes, and a small piece connected to one of history’s greatest love affairs”.
Nelson first met Hamilton in 1793 and the pair were reunited in 1798 following the Battle of the Nile. Having been severely injured, Nelson recuperated in Naples, during which time he was nursed back to health by Hamilton and her husband, Sir William Hamilton.
It was during this period that Nelson and Hamilton began their famous love affair, which lasted until Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.