A Chamberlains Worcester specimen plate from Nelson's 'Horatia' Service, circa 1802-5

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Lot 13
A Chamberlains Worcester specimen plate from Nelson's 'Horatia' Service, circa 1802-5

Sold for £ 31,250 (US$ 41,660) inc. premium
A Chamberlains Worcester specimen plate from Nelson's 'Horatia' Service, circa 1802-5
the centre brightly enamelled and gilded with the full arms of Horatio Nelson incorporating the motto of the Order of the Bath, with supporters of a sailor and a lion, surmounted by a viscount's coronet (as granted in May 1801) and two crests of the San Josef stern and a Naval Crown with chelengk, a ribbon beneath the arms inscribed with the motto 'Palam Qui Meruit Ferat', the main armorial shield draped with other awards and orders, the border richly decorated with the 'Fine Old Japan' pattern with three foliate panels, one including two small green birds, 23.5cm (9 1/4in) diameter, marked in gold Chamberlains Worcester 240


  • Provenance
    Charles Wentworth Wass (1822-1905) and by descent
    Possibly H.Rokeby Price, acquired from the Worcester Porcelain Works Collection, prior to 1865
    Phillips sale 30 July 1980, lot 144

    Illustrated by John Sandon, Dictionary of Worcester Porcelain (1993), col. pl. 66
    'Nelson's China', Collectors Guide Magazine, March 1989

    In July 1802 Horatio Nelson embarked on a triumphant tour of Wales and the West Country. Nelson's entourage included his brother, the Rev William Nelson and Sir William and Lady Hamilton. They arrived in Worcester on Sunday 26 August and stayed at the Hop-Pole Inn. A local newspaper recorded the event...

    "...On Monday morning his Lordship and friends, preceded by a band of music, and attended by Mr Weaver, of the Hop-Pole Inn, and Messrs Chamberlain, visited the china factory of the latter, over the door of which was thrown a triumphal arch of laurel, ornamented with an elegant blue flag, with an appropriate inscription thereon. For more than an hour his lordship viewed with the minutest attention every department of this highly improved work, so much the object of general curiosity; and on inspection of the superb assortment of china at the shop in High Street, honoured Messrs Chamberlain by declaring that, although possessed of the finest porcelain the courts of Dresden and Naples could afford, he had seen none equal to the productions of their manufactory, in testimony of which he left a very large order for china, to be decorated with his arms, insignia &c. Sir William and Lady Hamilton also favoured the proprietors with liberal purchases."

    R.W.Binns, Worcester's Art Director published a very different account in 1865. James Plant had been a young china painter at the factory in 1802 and he remembered Nelson's visit half a century before. Plant recalled the moment the distinguished visitors arrived in the painting department. "and then," said Plant, "a very battered looking gentleman made his appearance- he had lost an arm and an eye- leaning on his left and only arm was the beautiful Lady Hamilton, evidently pleased at the interest excited by her companion; and then, amongst the general company following after, came a very infirm old gentleman- this was Sir William Hamilton." James Plant was an apprentice or junior painter in 1802. During more than forty years at Chamberlains he specialised in heraldic decoration, and so he may well have been one of the team that worked on the Nelson service.

    The factory order book survives in the Museum of Royal Worcester. The entry for August 27 1802 is in the name of 'RIGHT HON. LORD NELSON Duke of Bronte, No. 23, Piccadilly, opposite the Green Park'. The order describes a Breakfast service of 150 pieces, the component parts listed in detail. This is followed in far less detail with '1 Complete dinner service.' and '1 Complete dessert service, with ice pails.' The fact that the dinner and dessert sets were not listed in the same detail as the breakfast set suggests that during this initial visit to the factory Nelson was unwilling to commit to such lavish expenditure.

    The dessert service was never completed and it is likely this specimen plate and the example in the museum at Worcester are the only two pieces that were created. Indeed, there are minor differences in the composition of the ribbons and ornament on these two plates and other differences in the border designs, suggesting that both pieces were separate parts of the design process. With such a major order it would have been usual for the factory to produce specimen pieces ahead of the production of hundreds of very costly pieces.

    Work on the breakfast set probably commenced in September 1802 and it took around two years to produce 150 pieces. The set was delivered to Nelson and Emma's house at Merton for it appears in the inventory of Nelson's China and Plate compiled following his death at Trafalgar. Designated the 'Horatia Set', the components listed match precisely the original Chamberlain factory order. Only one butter tub is missing and one cup, one saucer and a sugar box had been broken. The set had not been paid for, however, and in January 1806 Chamberlains submitted a final account for the porcelain. They eventually received payment from Nelson's estate. The factory invoice book is reproduced here with thanks to the Museum of Royal Worcester.

    The letter from Nelson, lot 10 in this sale, reveals his concerns over the cost of the home at Merton and the lack of funds to cover the lifestyle he was expected to lead. Presumably the decision not to proceed with the dessert and dinner services was due to the high cost. The two surviving specimen plates had probably been sent to London for Nelson's approval and returned to Worcester when the order wasn't forthcoming. This would explain why they do not appear in the Merton inventory, or as part of the invoice sent to Nelson's estate.

    Nelson's taste was flamboyant and he chose one of the most sumptuous and expensive patterns. While visiting Chamberlains' shop he would have seen sets of pattern 240, one of their most popular designs called 'Fine Old Japan Pattern', Nelson requested the addition of his arms and insignia, to be finely painted on every piece. The intended dessert set would have been decorated with Nelson's full coat of arms on every piece. The breakfast set was not so lavish, with most pieces bearing only crests and coronets. Only the two teapots were decorated with the complete insignia, the same as on the specimen plates. The individual crests were costed at between one shilling and two shillings and sixpence each, while the '4 Coats of Arms emblason'd proper' used on the teapots cost an extra £6. Had they been made, the full arms on each dessert plate would have cost Nelson a similar sum of £1.10s for each painted plate centre.

    Charles Wentworth Wass (1822-1905) was an engraver and art dealer with a passion for fine porcelain. He collected armorial porcelain and specimen pieces from royal and celebrated services. Part of his armorial collection was exhibited by Thomas Goode in 1898 and on his death in 1905 some of the Wentworth Wass Collection was sold by Stoner and Evans. Further pieces remained in the family and were sold at Phillips by descendants in 1980 and in 1995. Wass had been a major buyer of porcelain at the sale in 1895 of Viscount Bridport's collection. Alexander Nelson, Viscount Bridport's father had married Nelson's niece, Charlotte Nelson who had inherited part of the Horatia set used by Emma Hamilton at Merton. Wentworth Wass bought a jug, a serving dish, chocolate cups and breakfast cups from the Horatia set at Viscount Bridport's sale. Some of these were sold by Phillips 6 December 1995, lots 321-322

    Wentworth Wass recorded the provenance of many of his pieces on large paper labels attached to the undersides. From these we know that he purchased magnificent specimen plates from another eminent collector, H.Rokeby Price. On one plate from Worcester's Queen Victoria set made in 1861, Wentworth Wass noted this specimen plate had been bought by H.Rokeby Price in 1864 from Worcester's Art Director R.W.Binns. Binns created the Worcester Porcelain Works Museum where he displayed specimen plates from important services. One specimen plate for Chamberlain's Nelson dessert service still survives in the Museum of Royal Worcester and this was first published by Binns in 1865, not long after Binns arrived in Worcester to rescue the ailing Chamberlain factory. It is possible the present lot was a duplicate plate, also part of the Chamberlain factory works collection. R.W.Binns may have sold this second plate to H.Rokeby Price from whom it was subsequently acquired by Charles Wentworth Wass.
A Chamberlains Worcester specimen plate from Nelson's 'Horatia' Service, circa 1802-5
A Chamberlains Worcester specimen plate from Nelson's 'Horatia' Service, circa 1802-5
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