Copy of Alexander Stephens’ Public Characters of 1803-4 annotated by Nelson, £20,000 at Forum.

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A London sale included a copy of Alexander Stephens’ Public Characters of 1803-4 annotated by Nelson that may well have remained with him up to the time of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Sold for a double-low estimate £20,000 to the trade, it was part of the May 25 auction at Forum (26/25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) which opened with a 42-lot group of books, maps and manuscripts from the Eyre-Matcham-Nelson Collection.

The ownership inscription reads “Nelson & Bronte February 27th 1804 off Barcelona in Spain”, dating from about a year and a half before Nelson’s naval triumph.


Copy of Alexander Stephens’ Public Characters of 1803-4 annotated by Nelson, £20,000 at Forum.

Another of the annotations in Nelson’s hand that the work contains is one made in defence of Emma Hamilton, and relates to Stephens’ mention of criticism of her marriage to Sir William Hamilton made by members of the latter’s family.

Nelson has also underlined a section referencing Emma’s birth as having been in the forest of Bere in Hampshire, adding the words “Lancashire witch”. This, said Forum, may have been a personal joke or perhaps a correction – Emma having been born in a small town in Cheshire that is close to its border with Lancashire.

Forum specialist Max Hasler said: “It is one thing to have books that are written about Nelson, because lots of people wanted to write about him after his death, but it is quite another to have something that belonged to him and was inscribed by him.”

Very few items inscribed by Nelson have come to auction.

Other notable lots at Forum included one presenting some 200 letters from Nelson’s father, the Rev Edmund Nelson. Dating from the years 1783-1801 and addressed to his daughter ‘Kitty’ and her husband, they contain numerous references to his famous son.

That lot sold to a private collector at £22,000 against an estimate of £6000-8000, while Horatio Nelson’s own subscriber copy of the 1802 first edition of Isaac Schomberg’s Naval Chronology; or an Historical Summary of Naval & Maritime Events made a mid-estimate £10,000. The five volumes that make up that work were uncut in original boards, though now very worn and lacking much of their backstrips.

The collection had its roots in George Matcham (1753-1833), who married Nelson’s sister Catherine (1767-1842) in 1787.

Hasler added: “He was very keen on building up and perpetuating the Nelson mythology, as it were. He wrote one of the earliest, most important biographies, and actually named his son Horatio Nelson [Charles Horatio Nelson Matcham, 1806-44].”

Another son, George Nelson Matcham (1789-1877), married into the Eyre family in 1817. The family estate in Wiltshire came up for sale recently and the library, which housed this collection and had come down by family descent, was the one offered at Forum.


This extraordinary illustration is one of 60 hand-coloured engraved plates by Bernard Picart, all printed on thick paper, that illustrate a copy in a period calf binding of a 1733, Amsterdam edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The captions to the plates are in four languages – the English version reading ‘Cygnus transformed to a Swan and Phaeton’s Sisters into Poplars’. It sold for £8000 at Forum.

Legal work

Also in this auction, sold for sold for £13,000 was an early legal work by Johannes Andreae, Quaestiones Mercurales super Regulis Juris. A fourth edition of this legal text, printed in Venice in 1477, it had many shortcomings in terms of condition.

Other historical highlights included an 1817, second edition of David Hume’s principal work. A copy of his Treatise on Human Nature that was quite foxed internally but uncut and almost entirely unopened in the original boards, it sold at £8000.

Though now regarded as a key and hugely influential philosophical study, this now famous work had been savagely reviewed when first published in 1739-40, and as a consequence had sold poorly.


Dating from 1752 and one of two early maps of the Philippines that sold well in the Forum sale, this double-page example by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, Carte Réduite des Iles Philippines pour Servir aux Vaisseaux du Roy, which is close to 3ft (90cm) tall, made £3500. A copy of George Maurice Lowitz’s Carte Hydrographique & Chorographique des Isles Philippines of 1760, a similarly sized, two-sheet version of Father Pedro Murillo Velarde’s map of the islands, noted by Forum as the first reasonably obtainable large-format map, sold at £4500.

Dahl unedited

Among a number of Roald Dahl books to be offered were 1964 US and UK firsts of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The UK version found a buyer at £1600, but the star turns as far as Dahl’s books were concerned were inscribed and extra-illustrated UK firsts of The Twits of 1980 and The BFG of 1982 that bore both author’s signatures and additional examples of the work of their illustrator, Quentin Blake.


Featuring on the half title a drawing of a monkey swinging from a letter T, this copy of Roald Dahl’s The Twits was bid to £6500 at Forum.

Inscribed by the latter “To Ben Love Roald Dahl 1980” and, as seen in illustration reproduced above, featuring on the half title a drawing of a monkey swinging from a letter T, the copy of The Twits was bid to £6500.


The copy of The BFG (1982) signed by both author Roald Dahl, and illustrator Quentin Blake which made £9000 at Forum.

It was also to the half-title that Blake’s illustration of The BFG was to be found, but as it is essentially a freer version of that seen on the book’s jacket, albeit with bigger ears, I have elected to feature as an illlustration the version as seen on the dust jacket. Inscribed ‘To William with Love…” by Dahl, that copy sold at £9000.

Scarce Gruffalo

Billed as “exceedingly rare”, a 1999 first of Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo was another success among the children’s books on offer, selling at £5500.


Billed as a superb copy and in a rarely seen first state jacket, this 1979 first of Douglas Adams’ The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sold at £1700 at Forum.

Offered among the closing, ‘Modern Firsts’ section of the Forum sale was what was billed as a superb copy of Douglas Adams’ The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy of 1979, a work which, along with its successors, had its origins in a 1978 BBC radio series. It sold at £1700.

There were some disappointments on the day and a couple of Ian Fleming’s books bearing high estimates did not sell.