Hundreds of books about him or aspects of his career have been produced, the earliest dating from 1805.
However, despite this scrutiny, an innocuous document on offer at Charles Miller’s April 25 auction in London reveals a hitherto unknown detail: that Nelson wore and used glasses.
It is a receipt from Matthew Berge for Lord Nelson, on laid paper impressed with headed copperplate business details, completed in manuscript dated October 9, 1802 (with extra dates in the margins for May 10, 1803, and August 29, 1805). It features a list of articles and services such as repairing and cleaning telescopes and a barometer.
Intriguingly it also mentions ‘a pair of shell spectacles & case; a pair of hand spectacles’.
According to the saleroom: “No image was ever produced with him using them and no reference in either his letters or other people’s memoirs or diaries has been found to record this detail. It should come as no surprise as Nelson was almost blind in one eye and the other was fading rapidly – the ‘hand spectacles’ or quizzing glasses [single magnifying lens on a handle] are further testament to his failing sight, although neither pair seem to have survived.”
He seems to have opened an account with Berge in 1802. Berge had inherited the premises and workshops of the late Jesse Ramsden, perhaps London’s foremost instrument maker at the time of his death in 1800. Ramsden was also son-in-law to the great optician Peter Dollond and Dollonds was thought likely to have provided the optics for Ramsden/ Berge products.
The estimate for the 6 x 8in (15 x 20.5cm) receipt is £1000-1500.