The 22 letters from names including Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Charles De Gaulle and Chiang Kai-shek were recently gifted by the family of Sir William David Ross (1877-1971) to the Oxfam store in Ealing.
Ross, a Scottish philosopher, translator and civil servant, was provost of Oriel College, Oxford, from 1929-47 and vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1941- 44. Sitting on many governmental committees, his address book included many of the great and the good of 20th century society.
One of two letters to Ross from Einstein was written (in German) from Cromer in north Norfolk on October 1, 1933. At the time Einstein and his wife Elsa, who had fled from Germany when Hitler came to power, was receiving brief refuge in the UK before moving to the US on October 17.
Concerned for the well-being of a colleague, he wrote: “Professor Zangger at the University of Zurich, asked me to make you aware of Prof. Stenzel in Kiel, who lost his position. He researches the history of science in ancient Greece and he is not in the position to contact you from Germany. The question is if there is a possibility to invite this gentleman to England or America as a guest lecturer.” Einstein suggests Ross contact Zangger directly “especially as I will be soon travelling to America (Princeton)”.
Prof Julius Stenzel, a classical philologist and philosopher, was a member of a disciplinary committee that had expelled some Nazi students from the university in 1930. In 1933 he was transferred to the University of Halle where he died two years later.
The letter sold at the top end of the £4000-6000 estimate.
A second Einstein letter, sold at £4000, was dated May 18, 1931. Also written in German, the physicist regrets he will not be able to accept Ross’ kind invitation due to his health conditions “unless the event was a scientific talk”.
Two typed letters signed by Churchill were estimated at £800- 1200 each. The first, dated Whitehall Place, May 1918, references Churchill’s recommendation that Ross be given an OBE. The second, dated Downing Street, December 1942, offers thanks for a copy of America: The Story of a Free People “which has been so kindly dedicated to me as well as to President Roosevelt” by the two authors [Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager]”. They sold at £1400 and £1900 respectively.
Offered as one lot were six wartime typed letters from Charles de Gaulle. Variously dated between August 1940-September 1944 and written from Carlton Gardens, London and Paris, in the earliest letter the leader of the Free French invites Ross to sit on the Patronage Committee of recently established Association of Friends of French Volunteers.
In the last he thanks Ross for his kind words saying: “Testimonials from friends like you are particularly valuable to me. That they come from England adds even more value.”
The group was expected to bring £1000-1200 but hammered at £420.
Among the most valuable of the documents was one carrying the autograph of the Chinese Republic politician Chiang Kai-shek. Written in Chinese script, with a contemporary translation, it offers his thanks for the hospitality shown by the university to the Chinese Mission to Oxford University and hoped the visit will help strengthen Sino-British cultural relationship. It sold as expected for £3000.
Fab Four signatures
Leading this Autographs and Manuscripts sale was a promotional photograph of The Beatles, signed in blue and red ballpoint inks by all four members of the band and additionally inscribed by Ringo (Geoff, Best wishes from the Beatles) and George (To Geoff, Best wishes).
The signatures were obtained for the vendor by his brother who in 1964 worked as an assistant director on A Hard Day’s Night at Twickenham Studios. Estimated at £5000-7000, it made a cool £18,000.
There was also strong competition for a possibly unique pair of portrait photographs of the young Edward VIII. It was thought they were once owned by the English socialite Freda Dudley Ward (1894-1983), who had a long affair with the then Prince of Wales before he met Thelma Furness and then Wallace Simpson.
The photographs, signed by the Bassano studio of London with photographer’s pencil marks along the margins, show the prince in mirror-like head and shoulders profile poses. Each image is signed and dated E.1919 on the front and David, Aug 1919 on the verso.
They were consigned by a vendor whose grandmother was Dudley Ward’s personal maid in the 1920s. Offered together with a full-length photograph of Dudley Ward holding her two Yorkshire terriers with an estimate of £1000-1500, they took £8500.
Although she married Dudley Ward in 1913, Freda had a relationship with Edward from 1918 until 1929. She was supplanted in his affections, first by Thelma Furness (1904-70) and then by Wallis Simpson.