May 7, 2015

Finest Hour 115, Summer 2002

Page 24


Don’t be taken in—they look genuine, but they’re reproductions.


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Autograph Letter Signed by Winston S. Churchill, British Prime Minister, on debossed House of Commons Notepaper, thanking a well-wisher for a kind message on his birthday, 1947. Folded once, slightly yellowed from age, otherwise a fine copy. $1200.” (This was an actual offer on the Internet, but the honest seller, alerted by an observer, conscientiously withdrew the item.)

More than one seller or collector has been taken in by these remarkable facsimile holograph notes, produced by Churchill’s Private Office from 1945 through at least 1959— some of them so convincing that casual observers swear they are originals. But distinguishing one is easy: if there is no salutation, it’s a facsimile.

The Private Office acted in self-defense. From the time Winston Churchill was thrown out of office in the July 1945 General Election almost until the end of his days, letters, cards, and gifts flowed to Hyde Park Gate, Downing Street and Chartwell, attesting to the esteem in which he was held by ordinary people all over the world.

So from time to time, his Private Office made him sit down with his big black pen and ink a note—sans salutation, sometimes dated, sometimes not—which they then reproduced by the thousands, thrust into envelopes and popped into the post. Write to Mr. Churchill, and chances were good you would get a “handwritten” reply!

The reproductions, especially in the early days, were remarkably lifelike, the intensity of the dark blue ink varying with nib pressure, as it does normally. Churchill’s signature often bears his characteristic flourish, and looks as genuine as all get-out. Clearly these early examples were color separations, not simply black-printed reproductions.

In the beginning, secretaries would often type the name and sometimes the address of the recipient (“Mr. A. Withers” in one example here) at the bottom of each note. But soon the workload prevented even this modest individualization. Through 1950, most notes bore an embossed House of Commons seal; when Churchill returned to office in 1951 they adopted a printed 10 Downing Street letterhead; after he retired they were headed from Chartwell. The last one he actually wrote may have been in 1959; after that his hand became very shaky and the notes were simply reprinted from previous ones, deleting the dates.

A real note entirely in Winston Churchill’s own hand, sent to an individual, is worth anywhere from $2000/£1400 on up, depending on the recipient. To someone like Lloyd George or Chamberlain, the value would be very high; one to Roosevelt, assuming any escaped the Hyde Park files, would be priceless. But these printed holographs should not command more than £50/$75 on today’s market. They are nice little items, fun to frame, but by no means rare. Mark Weber has assembled this specimen collection of nine. If you have any variations, please send us photocopies.

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