A former British prime minister’s cigar has sparked a bidding battle at auction on election day. (Dec 12)
A part-smoked cigar dropped by Sir Winston Churchill in 1953 sold to a private UK buyer for £4,800 at Hansons Auctioneers after being discovered at a free valuation event at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs.
Its owner, Julian Lewis, 50, a former manufacturing firm owner from Stoke, Staffs, said: “I’m really pleased it’s sold and gone to someone who will appreciate it. It’s just been stuck in a drawer at my house for years.”
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “This was an incredible historical find. We believe that, thanks to the protective plastic placed around the cigar, it will still contain Churchill’s DNA. It deserved to do well and I’m delighted for both our seller and buyer.
“On election day, it’s a privilege to sell an item which belonged to a man who was Britain’s prime minister not once, but twice. The fact that someone was prepared to pay such a high price for Churchill’s cigar, shows the esteem he is still held in decades after he led our country.”
The cigar was picked up from the floor by Julian’s great aunt Violet King when she was an usherette at the London Coliseum. And thanks to her, it has rock solid provenance. She was so excited by her political keepsake she wrote to 10 Downing Street to gain the Prime Minister’s permission to tell her friends about it – and he said yes.
Her brush with a political legend occurred in January, 1953, when she was looking after a row of seats at the Coliseum occupied by Churchill and wife Clementine during the film premier of American musical Call Me Madam.
Mr Lewis picks up the story: “My great aunt Violet saw Churchill drop the cigar which he’d been smoking. She picked it up and treasured it for the rest of her life.
“Violet died in her 90s back in the 1980s but I remember her telling me the story. It was her claim to fame. She was very proud of the cigar. She liked to talk about it and show it to people.
“In April, 1953, she wrote to Winston Churchill to ask if she could tell her friends she had his cigar. Amazingly, she received a letter on Downing Street-headed paper with a friendly note signed by Churchill’s personal secretary Jane Portal.”
The note, dated April 8, 1953, said, ‘The Prime Minister wishes me to thank you for your letter of April 1. He has, of course, no objection to you telling your friends that the cigar you found is his and much appreciates your goodwill.’
The letter, cigar and a newspaper cutting from the Daily Telegraph about Churchill’s visit to the Coliseum were well preserved thanks to Violet’s decision to get them encased in special plastic.
Mr Lewis said: “Back in 1953, Violet’s niece, Lillian Corbitt, owned a plastics company called Visijar which was pioneering plastic for baby incubators. She had the cigar, letter and newspaper cutting encased in this heavyweight material. That’s why they’ve have survived so well. Churchill’s DNA must still be on the cigar.”
The newspaper cutting saved for posterity, dated January 31, 1953 and headlined ‘Premier at Theatre’, adds more flavour to the story. It said: “Mr and Mrs Churchill saw the American musical Call Me Madam at the Coliseum last night. When they entered the audience rose and cheered. Mr Churchill smiled and gave the victory sign.”
In 1953, Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was in charge of the country for a second time. He was UK prime minister from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955.
Mr Lewis decided to part with the cigar so it could go to someone who would appreciate its historical value.
He said: “The cigar and letter were left to my father who gave them to me about 30 years ago. They’ve been stuck in a drawer all that time. The cigar only comes out very occasionally to show friends if Churchill’s name crops up in conversation.”
The Churchill cigar and letter were sold in a Library Auction on December 12 at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire, DE65 6LS. To find out more, email [email protected].