Ten weird, wonderful, incredible and inspiring stories

Few auction houses bring to life the stories behind the artefacts they sell better than Charles Miller Limited.  Their enthusiastic quest to animate the often unique and unusual sale items for their customers can lead to surprising revelations and incredible stories! 

The sale on Tuesday 24th November 2020 is no exception. 

The catalogue is crammed full of research and information about each and every Lot in the sale. This is the definitive location for connoisseurs of naval, maritime, scientific instruments, models and art. And the full catalogue is available at www.charlesmillerltd.com for free. You can search for any story in the catalogue by key word or Lot number.

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Online catalogue for Charles Miller Ltd

Here are snippets, selected by Charles, from just 10 of the 295 weird, wonderful, incredible and inspiring stories behind the Lots from the forthcoming auction at Charles Miller Limited

1. The Sound of Music’s very own Captain Von Trapp sunk the full size ship of this builders model when he was an Austrian submarine Captain in the Great War. (Lot 72)

read the full story in the catalogue here

2.  In a sensational 1951 version of live news, the unfolding drama of the heroic attempts of a Captain Carlsen to save his ship the Flying Enterprise off the coast in Cornwall was captured on newsreel film and screened across the World. When the ship was listing so badly, he gave up trying to save it and he was able to walk along the stricken ships now horizontal funnel and step onto the deck of a tug boat the Turmoil. He was lauded around the World for his almost super human efforts to save his ship. This Lot is the actual windbreaker and life jacket worn by Captain Carlsen during this incredible drama. (Lot 65)

read the full story in the catalogue here

3.  A very rare Indian builders half model of the armed and naval wing of the East India Company. This model is designed and built in India of a 16 gun warship called the Ternate. And it has a lovely ivory figure head which is carved in the round (Charles took it out to give it a clean and discovered it is fully carved even though you only see half of it). It is most unusual to find an Indian model from the Bombay Marine and its a very rare model indeed. (Lot 119)

read the full story in the catalogue here

4. Two newly discovered portraits of Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton. These portraits are unusual because they are so off the cuff, literally.  They are much more honest than a lot of the more prosaically worked up portraits you see of Nelson, looking rather dashing and heroic. This is just him at home in the raw… And the picture of Emma is similar in that she is usually shown as a rather breathless dilettante, half dressed and looking ravishing and beautiful.  This is just a woman at home wearing a necklace and a turban (which was the fashion in those days) and it’s just a normal and domestic picture of life at home. It’s just really nice to see. (Lot 125)

read the full story in the catalogue here

5. A poignant but also unique and unusual casket from the battle cruiser the Indefatigable. A state of the art modern big gunship of her day she went into action at Jutland shortly after launching, where she was blown up and over 1000 men died in the space of about 40 seconds. Unfortunately the lid and the contents are missing but its an extremely unusual casket because the only one seen, let alone handled by Charles Miller Ltd, which is cruciform in shape. (Lot 151)

read the full story in the catalogue here

6. HMS Stork earned her place in history as the first command of arguably the most successful submarine hunter of the Second World War.  Captain “Johnnie” Walker died of exhaustion in 1944 but not before he had hunted down several German Submarines. He was a really active man. He doesn’t look like it in photographs he looks like a little man smoking a pipe! But in fact he was a huge man of action and Stork was his ship and over several War years he achieved an awful lot with Stork which made it very famous in its day. This Lot is the ships helm from HMS Stork (Lot 204)

read the full story in the catalogue here

7. HMS Bulldog captured a complete Enigma machine complete with the codes which of course went to Bletchley park and is widely credited with shortening the War by a couple of years. 

This Lot is a brass badge. When figure heads disappeared from ships they were effectively replaced with brass badges. The personification of the ship (emblem or crest) was put into a simple design. They were formalised in 1919 but pre War ones were designed by the ships men themselves, or one of the officers on board. And this HMS Bulldog badge is an official design, cast in brass. It is an interesting badge, and it’s clearly off the ship as its quite heavily polished. And so its obviously a loved souvenir from one of the crew. (Lot 208)

read the full story in the catalogue here

8. The bell from the submarine that inspired the film ‘The Hunt for Red October’ If you remember the film ‘The Hunt For Red October’ the bell in this Lot is from the submarine on which it was based. 

It was a stealth submarine. The Russians pinched technology from the Norwegians and the Americans and put it into their “Victor” Class submarines – this is from the first one in 1977. It allowed the submarine to basically move silently under water with enhanced sonar technology meaning it was one of the most advanced submarines and very difficult to track – which is the point of the film story. Sean Connery defecting with a submarine to America… well this is the submarine it was based on. (Lot 224)

read the full story in the catalogue here

9. The incredible little known story of a full naval action in miniature … in a land locked lake!

General William Twiss (1745-1827) was a massive military and naval engineer and basically got our defences into order against Napoleon. Including a stint out in the American Civil War where he built the Lake Champlain fleet… 

In the winter of 1777 the American and British retreated to either side of a massive lake called Lake Champlain the shoreline of which borders on Canada so was of huge strategic importance. They spent the winter each building a miniature war fleet so come the Spring, amazingly, a naval action consisting of 14 American ships versus 18 British ships in miniature took place in a land locked lake! 

It’s a really fascinating story! The British won – I might add –  but it was a pretty stiff thing. The ships that survived (I don’t think any were sunk in the battle but some were damaged badly) but once the lake had been captured they were, of course, useless. So they stayed at anchor for quite a time and a few years later there was a massive storm, and several of them sank – vertically – and because the water is so pure they literally went down in perfect condition, and they remain in perfect condition… so at the bottom of the Lake there are several ships with their masts still up and their guns in place and swords still there and its all at the bottom of a lake in America. 

Twiss helped to build that fleet… and so, this very average looking sextant had an unbelievably interesting owner. (Lot 227 a sextant by Jessie Ramsden)

read the full story in the catalogue here

audio book about the battle of Lake Champlain here

10. An unexpected gift

HMS Foudroyant survived Nelsons career and was bought by someone who restored and sailed her around the UK. She was unrestorably wrecked in a storm at Blackpool in 1898 – so the then owner sold her to a local furniture maker (Goodall, Lamb & Heighway Ltd) who created furniture and artefacts from the wood of this ship. So this is a really beautifully carved cigar casket.. but the interesting thing about it, other than the Nelson connection, is that it was a very expensive thing in its own right. This example was bought by Lord Northcliffe who was the owner of the Daily Mail, and he sent it as a gift to Cecil Rhodes of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1900 or thereabouts … Rhodes died in 1902 and his Estate returned the box to Northcliffe and it arrived at his golf club (as things apparently did) who then turned and gave it to his friend ‘John B’ who was standing nearby at the time.

The original list price was £35 back in 1900 so in todays money its probably £3 or £4K of cigar box which he casually gave to his fellow club member and this is Cecil Rhodes’s cigar box. (Lot 151 – catalogue front cover)

read the full story in the catalogue here

This Lockdown 2.0 why not take time to browse through more of the bizarre and interesting stories of naval and maritime history in the catalogue?

Charles gives us a preview of the saleroom and talks through some of the forthcoming Lots

Participate in the sale on 24th November by watching the live auction action from your armchair!

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  • Register now for free to bid for any of the lots in the sale.
  • You can see live sale action on the day via one of three web platforms.
  • You won’t be able to bid but you can also watch live sale action without registering
  • despite the Lockdown, you can arrange to view auction items in person by appointment by calling the offices on 0207 806 5530

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  1. I love this post!! So much history and information

    1. Thank you! – I love to get such positive feedback. It means a lot to me.

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