Bookcase-display cabinet

Bookcase-display cabinet made from oak and copper made from material salvaged from HMS Foudroyant – £41,000 at Michael Bowman.

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The loss was near total but, with a view to the impending Trafalgar centenary and the possibility of making memorabilia from its historic timbers and copper, a consortium of Manchester antique and furniture dealers purchased the salvage for £250.

One was the local interiors firm of Goodall, Lamb & Heighway (since 1899 incorporating the firm of Lamb of Manchester and wallpaper manufacturer Heighway), probably best known today for the series of ‘art furniture’ it created from the century-old ship.

It published a sales catalogue titled The Ship of the Century: Nelson’s Flagship Foudroyant picturing designs and prices for nautical-themed occasional furniture. The introduction points out that the oak had proved difficult to work with the extra labour demanding prices be ‘proportionate’. Any customer who wished to have the design made in new timber could do so for a reduction of 25%.

Small smoking and wall cabinets were priced from £5 12s 6d. A copy of ‘Nelson’s chair’ with a carved fouled anchor to the shield back was £8 11s 6d.

However, by far the most expensive commission at a straight £60 was a 5ft 4in (1.63m) wide cabinet in imitation of a stern and quarter lights with a frieze inscribed 1798 Foudroyant 1801.

It was one of these, complete with copper plaque stating it was made using Foudroyant oak and copper that appeared for sale at Michael Bowman in Newton Abbot on September 24.

It had a relatively recent saleroom provenance: the local vendor, who as a cadet had trained on a ship of the same name, had bought it at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter for £16,000 in 2014. Unfortunately, it had not fitted in his Devonshire cottage.

Estimated by Bowman at an attractive £2000-3000, there were three bidders prepared to better the price in 2014 and two dealers, one from London on and another on the phone, exchanged blows up to £41,000 (plus 17.5% buyer’s premium), with the online bidder winning.

The price was the second highest achieved by the auction house after the £63,000 bid in 2008 for a watercolour by Richard Parkes Bonington.

Maritime antiques specialist Charles Miller has sold a number of Foudroyant furniture pieces in the past decade but none at this price level.

A similar cabinet lacking its cornice with Nelson medallion and the copper and glass lantern had sold for £6000 in 2015 while a profusely carved cigar box (priced in the Goodall, Lamb & Heighway catalogued at £35) with a provenance to Lord Northcliffe and Cecil Rhodes took £3600 in 2020.