Our top five English collectibles


2015-06-26 11:58:36


Our top five English collectibles

As St George's day is celebrated throughout England (except by the dragons) we take a look at some distinctively English memorabilia

St George and the dragon is a legend dating back to the third century, of a missionary knight who faced an unusual and tricky problem converting a village to Christianity: defeating a dragon which was preventing them getting fresh water, else a princess would have to be sacrificed.

Englishmen have used the heroic knight as their patron saint since at least the time of Alfred the Great - well over a 1,000 years - and whilst sadly his sword and the dragon's scales that St George fans might like to collect remain elusive, distinctively English collectibles are easier to find.

St George's whisky

Until recently, like bagpipes and windswept Highland scenery, if you were in the British Isles and wanted some whisky you'd have been best placed in Scotland, or failing that Ireland.

Last year however, a father and son team challenged that idea. Tired of watching all the barley they were growing heading north from their Norfolk farm to be made into Scotch, they created The English Whisky Company and started work at their St George Distillery.

The English Whisky Company St George Chapter 6 whiskyEnglish Whisky company dram

By late last year, they had created Chapter 6, the first malt spirit aged long enough to be truly a whisky.

By then Jim Murray of the Whisky Bible had already described the distillery as a 'fabulous outpost' in the 2010 edition of that influential book.

This was based on his tasting of the maturing malt spirit, and he classed both the peated and plain versions as Brilliant.

The first batch sold out within hours, with whisky drinkers and collectors keen to hold a sample.

Oliver Cromwell's signature

For the roots of England's constitutional monarchy and parliamentary system, you have to look back to its Civil War. Through the first half of the 17th century, parliament increasingly flexed its muscles against the powers of first James I and then his son Charles I.

The man who re-modelled the army (making it national, rather than in parts bound to counties) which won the war and served as Lord Protector following the execution of the King was one Oliver Cromwell.

Cromwell signed Charles I's death warrant, along with other members of Parliament, but then signed himself 'Oliver P' (for Protector, comparable to Charles R(ex) for Royal signatures). His signatures are rare and valuable however.

Stanley Matthews FA Cup final boots

Skipping forward to the 20th century and England's best loved game, memorabilia associated with England's greatest footballers is often valuable.

Few men have had greater standing in football than Stanley Matthews who kept himself in such great shape that he continued playing in England's top football division until he was 50, playing his last competitive game when he was 55.

But Matthews most glorious game was in 1953 when he was relatively sprightly 38. Blackpool's winger put in such a fantastic performance that the game is today known as the Matthews Final.

The boots he wore for the match were put up for auction at Bonhams this February with an estimate of 6,000-8,000, but they shot past that scoring an impressive 38,400.

A piece of Lord Nelson's flag

Late last year, a flag from one of the ships under the control of Admiral Lord Nelson went under the hammer. The huge flag, flown from the jackstaff of the HMS Spartiate was present at the Battle of Trafalgar, and sold to an American bidder for 384,000 - nearly 40 times its estimate.

That was a Union Jack. However, the flag of Nelson's own ship, HMS Victory, was a St George's flag with a Union Jack in the corner.

Strip from HMS Victory's flag, with the story

That flag was present at Nelson's funeral, and the Victory's sailing master, John Clyne, tore 12 pieces from the corner to give to the 12 sailors present from the ship to remember Nelson by.

One of those strips is currently on the market, and is surely the best piece of English memorabilia associated with Nelson - unless the rest of the flag comes on sale.

Henry VIII's divorceletter

At the risk of sounding our own trumpet, a letter written by King Henry VIII to Cardinal Benedetto de Accolti, currently in our possession, is the best piece of English memorabilia we've come across.

Henry was writing to the Cardinal because he wished the Pope to grant him a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry could not contact Pope Clement VII directly because he was the prisoner of Emperor Charles V.

The letter was the start of the English church: Henry demanded a divorce on the basis that God was frowning on the marriage (because Catherine had married his brother Arthur first) and this was why he had no male heir. The Pope refused.

The rest is history. Henry declared himself Head of the Church in England and granted himself a divorce. The Anglican church - Episcopalian in America - developed from there.

The extraordinary document is now available to buy for 275,000 ($450,000).

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