Winston Churchill and a giant fossilised pig star in 'weird and wonderful' sale

What do one of Churchill's cigars, a 35 million years old fossilised giant pig, a silver wheelbarrow presented to W E Gladstone, historic butterfly cabinets from the Natural History Museum and Christmas presents from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor have in common?  They all feature in Bonhams annual Gentleman's Library Sale on 19 January.

The sale is always a fascinating mix. Last year, for example, the towering skeleton of an Ice Age bear proved irresistible to bidders and it doubled its estimate to sell for £36,000 ($56,000). The range this year includes equally intriguing and unique pieces.

During the war, portraits of Churchill were important propaganda tools but he rarely actually sat for them. In 1944 he did so, briefly, for the artist Frank O Salisbury who had already painted him many times.  When the Prime Minister left, he discarded his half smoked cigar which the painter kept as a souvenir. It has been in the family ever since and is estimated at between £600 and £1,000. 

A perfect place to keep it would be one of the 46 collectors' cabinets from the Natural History Museum. Until recently they held the world famous butterfly collections of three Victorian gentlemen who competed to accumulate the greatest number of specimens and the most impressive. They range in estimate between £300 and £3,000.

Fossilised giant pig
Fossilised giant pig

The giant pig is among an array of fascinating and ancient fossils including a massive petrified tree trunk from the Triassic period, 235 years ago (estimate £5,000-7,000) and a beautiful large fossilised fish plate holding the forms of 26 perfectly preserved fish (£3,000-5,000).

Four times Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, was presented with the sliver wheelbarrow to commemorate his cutting of the first sod of the Wirral railway in 1892. It comes complete with spade and is estimated at between £20,000-25,000.

There is a memento of another great Victorian in Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Cigar Box (estimate £22,000-30,000). An inveterate smoker, Brunel got through up to 40 cigars a day and is often pictured, cheroot in mouth and cigar case strapped across his chest.

Finally, Christmas presents from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to their private secretary for ten years, Mr Victor Waddilove, are among a small archive of memorabilia connected with the controversial couple (£2,000-2,500)  The gifts include a gold pen knife and a silver beaker, both engraved with the ciphers of Edward and Wallis.

The Gentleman's Library Sale is now in its 11th year.  Unique to Bonhams, the sale features all kinds of objects that may have been found in a Victorian or Edwardian Gentleman's Library from fossils to cigarette boxes, leather armchairs to globes, chess sets to family portraits.

Those interested in Churchill memorabilia will be interested to know that a rare handwritten and signed letter written by the great man is available away from the sale.


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