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Nelson “blind-eye” battle sword finds new home


Nelson forcing the passage of the sound. A painting showing the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen.
Nelson's ships sailing to the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

A sword awarded for bravery in the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 has been sold at auction.

The battle is most famous for the story of Nelson’s “blind eye”.

The story tells us that the admiral, later to die at the height of his greatest triumph, the Battle of Trafalgar, was ordered to retreat, but put a telescope to the eye he’d lost in order to claim that he could not see the order.

Forging an alliance

The British Royal Navy was in Danish waters to dissuade Denmark from forming an alliance with Revolutionary France. Around 2,000 Danish and around 1,000 British service men died in the action.

The sword was awarded for bravery in battle.

One who survived was midshipman James Proctor, who almost certainly owned the sword that realised £50,000 at a sale in Dorset, UK.

It’s a presentation sword, highly decorated and with a 37-inch (94cm) curved blade. The blade is made of German steel and the sword has a shaped ivory handle in the form of a lion’s head. The initials JP, engraved on the blade, and the Battle of Copenhagen link it to Proctor.

Gold medals were commonly made to commemorate successful actions during this period. This didn’t happen at Copenhagen, putting a rarity premium on this sword.

Bravery in action

Proctor was on the ship Edgar, the first to engage the Danish defensive forces. He was injured during the fighting and impressed his captain, James Murray, enough to warrant this award.

Although the sword was rare, an unusual survival from the period and in excellent condition it did not make it’s estimate, which was £60,000 to £80,000. So, though £50,000 is a very substantial investment, its new owner may consider this a bargain buy.

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