Ihlen, from Norway, and Cohen began a love affair on the Greek island of Hydra in the mid-1960s. She was the inspiration for several songs on his first two albums including Bird on the Wire and the 1967 hit So Long, Marianne. The back sleeve of Songs from a Room features a photograph of Ihlen at Cohen's typewriter.
The couple’s relationship became headline news again in 2016 when correspondence from Cohen to Ihlen, who was seriously ill with leukemia, became public knowledge. Cohen had written:
I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old body has given up, just as yours has too, and the eviction notice is on its way any day now.
I’ve never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that. I don’t have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Love and gratitude.
Ihlen died aged 81 on July 28, 2016 in Oslo with Cohen dying just a few months later in on November 7 that year.
Highlights of the Christie’s sale, its first online auction for its New York books and manuscripts department, included a letter written in December 1960 in Montreal Alone with the vast dictionaries of language. It sold at a hammer price of $45,000 (£34,615) ($56,250 including buyer’s premium), against a high estimate of $7000.
An Italian bronze bell, c.15th-16th century, that hung in the Hydra home that Cohen and Ihlen once shared and is believed to have inspired the lines, 'There is a crack, a crack in everything' in Cohen's 1992 song Anthem sold for $65,000 (£50,000) ($81,250 including buyer’s premium).
The 50 love letters were sold by Ihlen's family.
Heather Weintraub, associate specialist at Christie’ books and manuscripts department in New York said: “These letters are exactly the sort of thing we love to handle: they are unpublished and fresh-to-market, with compelling content and impeccable provenance. The collection was estimated conservatively and we are absolutely delighted with the outcome.”
The sale sold 100% of the lots offered on June 5-13.