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Robert Louis Stevenson letter to sell amongst significant autograph collection

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A letter from the celebrated 19th Century Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson is one item amongst hundreds in a collection of autographs, letters and other ephemera relating to famous figures of the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries that will shortly be coming up for sale. Stevenson, whose works include Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, is among the 26 most translated authors in the world, and the letter in question was written in 1894; the last year of his life.

Ben Gamble admires the impressive autograph collection,
which contains examples from Charles Dickens,
Queen Victoria, Robert Louis Stephenson, Winston Churchill,
Thomas Hardy and many more.

A prolific novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer, Stevenson was a true literary celebrity during his lifetime, and travelled extensively; spending periods in France, the US, Hawaii and New Zealand before eventually settling in Samoa in 1890. Stevenson’s adventurous spirit belied his sickly constitution – he suffered frequent bouts of illness throughout his life – and his final four years in Samoa were blighted by periods of depression and worry that he his creativity was spent. He died of a cerebral hemmorhage on 3 December 1894, aged just 44.

The letter in question was dictated, and later signed, by Stevenson and addressed to a Miss Middleton, the daughter of family friend Lois Middleton who, between 1972-73 published a magazine entitled ‘Hours’ to which Stevenson contributed several instalments of a short story ‘The Inn of Aberhuern’. It seems Miss Middleton returned the manuscript to Stevenson in 1894, which he is then believed to have destroyed.

Stevenson’s reflective tone in the letter is typical of his latter years; recalling his father’s old dog that, during his childhood, was replaced with a younger animal, and his admiration of the old animal’s spirit in adversity:

My father was the natural god of all the dogs in our house, and poor Jura took to him of course. Jura was stolen, and in prison somewhere for more than a week as I remember. When he came back Smeoroch had come and taken my father’s heart from him. He took his stand like a man, and positively never spoke to my father again from that day until the day of his death. It was the only sign of character he ever showed. I took him up to my room and to be my dog in consequence, partly because I felt sorry for him and partly because I admired his dignity in misfortune.”

According to Ben Gamble, MD and Head auctioneer at West Midlands auction house Cuttlestones where the letter is set to sell in September, this is just one standout item in a very rare collection:

The Stevenson letter is impressive enough on its own merits – it is a uniquely personal insight into the psyche of one of the world’s most admired authors – however, when you put it in the context of the rest of the collection it is selling alongside it is truly fascinating. It is one of the most comprehensive, impeccably catalogued collections we have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Florence Filliter, the lady who originally compiled it in the early 20th Century, obviously had a real passion for collecting items relating to those she admired and it really is one of a kind.”

The extensive collection will be sold in six lots, one of which is the Stevenson letter which, together with its original, stamped envelope, carries an estimate of £800-1200. Great literary figures also feature in two of the other single-item lots; one is an autographed correspondence card from Thomas Hardy, author of Tess of the d’Ubervilles and The Return of the Native. Addressed to a ‘Mr Bond’ and dating from 12th June 1914 it carries an estimate of £100–200. A letter from the English novelist Anthony Trollope which, dated for 1878, simply reads ‘”I would do so much more… if I knew how.” meanwhile, has a guide price of £80-120.

But it’s not just authors who feature in this impressive collection; Royals and politicians are also well represented. A correspondence card signed by Winston Churchill and dated 1907/09, thanking a Mr Harris for his support, is expected to achieve between £200-400; whilst a one-page letter sent from Windsor Castle on August 24th 1917 to a Captain Gaiforth, and signed Albert, updates the commander of the future George VI’s recovery from a recent bout of ill health – possibly the duodenal ulcer which was operated on in November that year and prevented the Prince from active service in the latter years of WWI. This fascinating and very personal account comes together with its original envelope and carries an estimate of £100-200.

Serious autograph collectors will, however, be most keen to hear of the final lot in this collection; several albums and various plastic wallets containing signatures, letters, letter heads and notes relating to some of the most famous figures of the late 19th and early 20th century. Many on headed paper, some neatly laid down to pages and with interesting notes and annotated biographical detail from the compiler they cover Monarchs, members of the Royal Family, foreign Royalties, Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Statesmen, Ministers of the Crown, American Patriots, Soldiers, Admirals, Poets, Novelists, Painters, Actors, Divines, Bishops, Women of Note, Explorers and more.

Of particular note are Queen Victoria, Edward VIII, William IV, Lord John Russell, Lord Palmerston, Louis Mountbatten, Earl of Athlone (Prince Alex of Teck), Prince Radziwill, Archibald Primrose (5th Earl of Rosebery), Lord Salisbury, William Gladstone, Neville Chamberlain, Benjamin Disraeli, Andrew Bonar Law, Stanley Baldwin, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Herbert Henry Asquith, Winston Churchill , Joseph Chamberlain, Sir John Browning, Mr Justice John Marshall, Henry Clay, Henry Longfellow, Henry Irving, Ernest Rhys, Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, John Masefield, Sir Hugh Walpole, Sir William Blake, Frank Miles (to Lilly Langtree), Mary Maxwell, W. B. Maxwell and Walter Besant. This impressive group of over 400 autographs, which would make a fantastic addition to any collection or the basis of a fascinating research project, carries an estimate of £800-1200.

The lots are set to go under the hammer at Cuttlestones’ 7th September Specialist Collectors’ Sale at its Wolverhampton Sale Rooms. The full catalogue will be available from Friday, 31st August online at and viewing will be on Thursday, 6th September from 10am – 7pm. Live internet bidding via alongside telephone and commission bidding options will open the field to an International audience.

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