Egyptian legend lives on as the 'hand of Cleopatra' goes to auction


2015-06-26 12:15:22


Egyptian legend lives on as the 'hand of Cleopatra' goes to auction

This well-preserved relic of Egypt's leader may have felt the bite of the snake that killed her...

Whilst in modern Egypt many people would be happy to erase their leader of three decades Hosni Mubarak from history, an extraordinary lot has appeared at an auction in California representing a leader who was intended to be preserved.

The item purports to be none other than the mummified hand of Queen Cleopatra - the hand that may have caressed the face of Caesar and Mark Anthony. This same hand may very well have been one that held the asp that took her life.

This is a preserved mummified left hand from the collection of the English General Bowser, who acquired it in 1794 while in Egypt. It was presented to the General as the "hand of Cleopatra, daughter of Ptolemy Auletes".

The hand is in remarkably good condition with slender fingers and well preserved nails and yellowish leathery skin still on top, the hand bones are visible through the palm. Accompanying the hand is the original 1894 article about its rediscovery by a Mr Jordan in a lady's collection containing the facts per Rev John Wharton.

The hand is within the original mahogany case constructed by Mr. Jordan with original label and photo.

Also included is a piece of Mrs L Jordan's stationary with notation about her husband's prior ownership of the hand, an insurance form for 500 dated 1/4/59, as well as two letters regarding the sale of the hand for L Taylor at Sotheby's, both on their stationary, one dated August 28th, 1958 and the other December 31st, 1958.

In addition, there is a late 19th century pamphlet about Cleopatra's Needle, which is an Egyptian obelisk in England. Below are some of the details within the paperwork outlining the history of the hand: The mummified hand was presented to the English General Bowser, who defeated Tippoo Sahib in 1783-1794, in 1794 when he was visiting Egypt on his way back to England.

Since this was not the usual route from India to England he must have been there for some exploration and acquisition. A letter in an 1894 English newspaper recants the rest of the history of the hand as told by Rev John Wharton:

"The account which I have always heard is this: as the General was residing in the country various excavations of mummy pits were being made, and one magnificent but ponderous sarcophagus was brought to light.

The inscription was not, I should think hieroglyphic at so late a date, indicated the mummy as that of the celebrated Cleopatra. One of the hands was immediately presented to the valiant English general, and this is that identical hand".

Queen Cleopatra's handAn old hand at auction - Queen Cleopatra

The hand was rediscovered in a curio collection of one Miss Emma Thompson of Kirkby Stephen in 1894 by a Mr. Jordan, who purchased the piece. The hand had been in the Thompson family for three generations and had been given to them by General Bowser, apparently in or slightly after 1799, as it was wrapped in quarto-sized paper dated 1799.

The authenticity of the hand and its incredible story was supported by the facts given by Rev John Wharton, having been informed many years prior by the late Mrs Thompson of Appleby (perhaps Emma Thompson's mother).

This was all included within a newspaper article about the hand in an English paper of 1894. Great interest was stirred up by this "discovery" and many people examined the hand, one man offering 500 pounds for the hand for purpose of exhibition!

In 1958 the widow of Mr Jordan, a Mrs L Jordan, an antiques dealer herself, sold the hand to one L. Taylor of Tynemouth, Northumberland. This L Taylor Esq had the hand insured and began corresponding with Sotheby in late 1958 and early 1959 about placing the mummified hand into one of their auctions, which they showed interest in doing.

The hand however remained in the Taylor family until its sale in late 2010. It is now offered with estimate of $25,000-30,000 in the auction by Ancient Artifacts in their auction which takes place in California and online on February 19.

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