The price of provenance

23rd July 2020

A previously undiscovered letter, written by the newly-crowned King George VI to his speech doctor, has sold at auction for £76,250 (including premium) after capturing the nation’s imagination.

The letter (sold with a silver-gilt cigarette case) is almost an epilogue to the 2010 film, The King’s Speech, which tracks the monarch’s battle with his stammer, ably abetted by Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Originally due to be sold by Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury on 28th April, the letter made national headlines back in March but was put on hold owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The past few months have seen interest in this lot build and build, and people were even more eager when we were finally able to reschedule the sale date for 23rd July,” explained Silver specialist, Rupert Slingsby. “The story behind the cigarette case and the letter is remarkable, and this is a truly unique item and a fascinating part of the history of the British Royal family.”

The letter reveals the anxiety of George VI regarding the coronation, and his subsequent relief at having successfully navigated its pitfalls.

“You know how anxious I was to get my responses right in the abbey,” writes the King to Lionel Logue, “but my mind was finally set at ease tonight. Not a moment’s hesitation or mistake!”

The letter was written from Windsor Castle on 17th May 1937, just five days after the coronation ceremony. Thanking Logue, “not only for your invaluable help with my speech, but for your devoted friendship and encouragement”, the King enclosed with the letter a silver-gilt cigarette case bearing his Royal cipher with the hope that, “you will accept this small gift as a token of my appreciation.”

The cigarette case and accompanying letter were sold at auction in Salisbury, UK, 83 years after the gift was made, with an initial starting price of £4,000.

“The value in this lot is in its provenance,” continued Slingsby. “It is extremely difficult to put a price on something like this, but we’re over the moon that it has sold for such a phenomenal amount.”

The case and letter were bought on the telephone by a private UK buyer, bidding against Wartski Ltd, London jewellers to the Queen and Prince Charles, and a bank of other telephone bidders, including one on behalf of Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, where Lionel Logue was educated.

“We believe this letter is the only example written to Logue by George VI which has not been retained by the Logue family,” explained Slingsby. “When Lionel Logue died in April 1953 both the case and the letter were given to his younger brother, Herbert. In August of the same year Herbert gave both to an Australian jeweller in lieu of a payment of £27 (about £1,300 today), which was owed for a graduated pearl necklace with a sapphire and diamond clasp.”

It’s a fantastic return for the Australian vendor, who sent the case and letter to Woolley and Wallis at the end of 2019, hoping that it would attract more interest in a UK auction. “The letter has stayed with the family of the jeweller who acquired it back in 1953, so it is something of a wrench to let it go now,” continued Slingsby. “However, they can’t help but be delighted with today’s result, and it has been a privilege for us to bring such a wonderful piece of history to market.”


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