Running to just 27 lots, an online sale of March 8-19 that offered items sent to auction by the family of renowned economist and political philosopher Friedrich August von Hayek (1899-1992) produced some extraordinary results.
The man whose life and work was celebrated in this Sotheby’s (25/20/12.9% buyer’s premium) auction is recognised by many as a towering intellectual figure of the 20th century and someone whose writings have had a profound impact in shaping the modern world.
Born in Vienna, Hayek became a naturalised British citizen in 1938 but after 1950 lived mostly outside the UK. In 1974 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Science – more specifically, for his ‘pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations’.
Nobel medal and more
Timed to mark the 75th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, The Road to Serfdom, the high spot of this sale was of course that Nobel Prize medal, which sold at £950,000 – and an excellent account of his life and work can be found in the online Sotheby’s catalogue entry for that lot. However, the real surprises were to be found elsewhere.
The sale also included Hayek’s annotated copy of Adam Smith’s …Wealth of Nations, editions of his own works, testimonials, signed photographs, his old typewriter, medals and what were described as “resonant” personal belongings.
His two-volume, 1911 ‘Everyman’s Library’ edition of …Wealth of Nations was annotated throughout. Valued at £3000-5000, it sold instead for £120,000.
In December last year one of Smith’s own copies of the work made a record £750,000 at Christie’s (see ATG No 2375), but only three other firsts have made a little more than the sum achieved for Hayek’s much later Everyman copy.
Sold at £45,000 against an estimate of £1500-2000 was a lot that included – along with a related letter, a few signed photographs and a Café Royal menu – the signed typescript of a speech on Hayek made by Margaret Thatcher when, in 2003, she was awarded the Internationaler Preis der Friedrich-August-von-Hayek-Stiftung.
Mutual admiration, it seems, was what underlined their friendship.
An original ink and gouache artwork by Peter Bonnici for a cartoon depicting Hayek, fellow economist Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph that appeared in the New Statesman in the 1980s sold at £11,000 against an estimate of £200-300.
So enthusiastic was the bidding that, excepting the Nobel prize itself, bids totalled £690,500, whereas the high estimates on those 26 lots totalled just £66,050.
One of those extraordinarily successful lots offered an assortment of ‘desktop ephemera and personal effects’. These included a wooden powder horn, compasses, a clock, cufflinks, a Toby jug, several old UK passports and two likenesses of Adam Smith.
It sold for £70,000 – on an estimate of £200-300.