We celebrated Trafalgar day just over two weeks ago, and Simon Chorley auctioneers of Gloucestershire are offering for sale a rather intriguing etui with a possible Nelson connection, so I thought you might like to read about it. An etui was, of course, a case or box used to contain articles of personal use. These cases were compact and portable; many were made in luxurious materials during the 18th and 19th centuries. This one appears to have a direct connection to Lord Nelson and his mistress, Emma Hamilton.
It dates from 1801 and it was therefore made during the reign of George III. As you can see, the etui is in the famous “cutlery box ” shape and is covered in shagreen. Shagreen was usually the name given to the skin of a shark or ray that had been filed down and dyed to give it its distinctive mottled appearance.
The hasp of the case is inscribed with the initials H.N to E.H. and is dated 1801:
Inside the etui there are a pair of scissors and, as you can see from the photographs, below, the scissor handles are inscribed Horatio Nelson
and Lady Hamilton.
The etui also contains two glass scent bottles with porcelain stoppers in the shape of birds, possibly originating from the Chelsea or more probably, in my humble opinion, the Derby factory given its date. There are also some needles, a spoon, an ivory aide memoir and a penknife.
I think we can assume that, given Jane Austen’s attitude to taking mistresses, she would not have approved of the gift, giver or recipient. But it is an interesting item and I wonder how much it will fetch at auction when it is offered for sale on the 10th November? Its estimate is £1,800-2,200 which, given its possible history, seems cheap enough to me ( not that I’m going to be bidding!)