Battle of the Nile service

Naples Battle of the Nile service, $35,000 (£28,200) at Pook & Pook.

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The déjeuner decorated in the neoclassical taste with scenes from the battle and Horatio Nelson’s portrait emerged for sale at Pook & Pook in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, on January 20.

Estimated at a modest $1200-1800, it sold at $35,000 (£28,200), plus 25% buyer’s premium.

Nelson, a great admirer of fine porcelain, owned several celebrated services. In a letter to Admiral of the Fleet John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent, he described a visit to the Real Fabbrica Ferdinandea (the Naples royal porcelain factory) where, having enquired as to the price of some biscuit porcelain figures, he had been told that any piece would be a gift from Ferdinand IV himself.

The king had reason to be grateful. Not only had Nelson’s arrival in Naples shortly after the Battle of the Nile on August 1-3, 1798, been met with chaotic scenes of celebration but the following year he had been instrumental in putting down a budding Neapolitan republic. When the revolution capitulated and Ferdinand returned to Naples from exile in Palermo, production at his porcelain factory restarted under director Domenico Venuti. It is possible the five pieces offered last month in Pennsylvania were part of a documented service commissioned by Queen Maria Carolina (sister of Marie Antoinette) in 1799 as a gift for Nelson himself. It was said to include 12 plates decorated with scenes from sea battles together with the admiral’s portrait.

Decorated tray 

The most impressive single element is a 14in (35cm) tray, decorated to the pink and gilt ground with a scene of British ships setting the French fleet ablaze. It is inscribed to the verso Combattimento tra la Squadron Inglese, e Francse coll incendio del Vascello Oriente accaduto nella zada d’Alexandria il primo Agosto 1798 (Combat between the English squadron and French with the fire of the Vascello Oriente which occurred off Alexandria on August 1, 1798).

A coffee can and saucer carries a profile portrait of Nelson painted en grisaille within a gilt roundel inscribed Del Brittanico Suol Forte Sostecno (Strong Support for the British). Repeated across all five pieces is a circular roundel with a border of flowers and a fleur de lis.

It was not in perfect condition. The hot water jug has a repaired handle and a section of the spout had been broken and remodelled, while the saucer was broken and reglued. Pook & Pook said the vendor’s family had acquired the set at Sotheby’s in London in July 1968.

Although none fit this description, a total of five named ‘Nelson’ services are listed in the inventories of Emma Hamilton’s silver and ceramic compiled at Merton in 1813 and 1814. Elements from all are highly prized by collectors.

A teapot from the Baltic Service presented to Nelson to mark his victory at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1802 sold for £28,000 at a Waterloo-themed auction held by Bonhams in 2015, while a specimen plate from the ‘Horatia’ Service ordered from the Chamberlains factory sold for £25,000 at Bonhams in 2017.