Eerie, never-before-seen sketches documenting the people and devastation in London during the Second World War Blitz - found by chance in a £5 house clearance lot – smashed their estimate to smithereens at auction.
Such was the worldwide interest in the 79-year-old Blitz sketchpad, which was annotated with comments on the scene or damage including deaths, names and locations, it sold for 145 times its low estimate at Hansons Auctioneers. From a guide price of £20-£40, it was contested to £2,900.
The sketch book, titled ‘Flying bombs & incendiaries, Beckenham, Penge, Croydon etc’, included pencil and ink studies of people sleeping in bomb shelters and damage to the capital’s buildings and streets during the German bombing campaign against Britain in 1940-41.
Germany conducted mass air attacks on industrial targets, towns and cities. From September 7, 1940, London was systematically bombed by the Luftwaffe for 56 out of the following 57 days and nights – a campaign called the Blitz by the British press.
Germany’s aim was to demoralise the British and spark surrender. However, the air offensive failed because the Luftwaffe didn’t destroy the UK’s war industry.
The atmosphere in London at the time, including air raid wardens inspecting the damage, buildings rocked by explosions and people trying to sleep through it all in London’s bomb shelters, is captured in the sketchbook. But it could have gone unnoticed for many more years but for an eagle-eyed staff member at Hansons.
Rik Alexander, head of operations at Hansons, said: “One of our cataloguers, Karen Van Hoey Smith, found a folder of sketches in a bulk lot of £5 house clearance stock – and knew it was special.
“They were created by an unknown artist during the Second World War Blitz in South East London – and provided a real-life account of the bombings as they happened.
“Such was their historical importance we isolated the drawings as a separate lot and placed them in the militaria section of our Summer Fine Arts Auction.
“It was speculative so we put a humble estimate of £20-£40 on the artwork as it had been part of a quantity collection. However, much to our delight, the sketches sold for £2,900. When the price reached £600, two bidders remained in the race to own the sketches, one from Holland and one from the UK. The British buyer secured the lot - a wonderful piece of wartime history.
“The success of this item, lost and forgotten amid a box of general ephemera from a house clearance, demonstrates how important it is to gain professional valuations.”
The Blitz sketchpad was sold in Hansons’ Summer Fine Art Auction in July, 2019. Entries are invited for Hansons’ Autumn Fine Art Auction. To arrange a free valuation, email [email protected] or call 01283 733988.