A mitten worn by British Everest expedition leader Sir John Hunt at 27,400 feet in May 1953 has been discovered in a shoe box. A client drove from Wales to bring the historical treasure for valuation at Hansons Auctioneers’ Staffordshire saleroom Bishton Hall – much to the amazement of valuer Jim Spencer.
Jim said: “Sometimes a client walks in with an old carrier bag or shoebox and you just sense a surprise coming, something worthy of a gasp. This was a case in point. Seeing that humble old mitten was a catch-your-breath moment. It was used during the first successful ascent of Mount Everest. It’s a real piece of history worthy of being displayed in a museum cabinet, so it would be lovely if an institution or gregarious collector were to win the auction and exhibit the object for all to enjoy.”
The mitt will be offered for sale with a guide price of £2,000-£3,000 on May 10. It comes with a hand-written and signed note of provenance from Sir John Hunt which states:
“Dear Mr Jenkins, Thank you for your letter dated 17th September. I hope that the enclosed down mitt, used by me at 27,400 feet on Everest on 26th May 1953, may be helpful to you in your campaign”.
Jim said: “The ‘campaign’ referred to was a 1970s fund-raiser for a new Scout hut for the 1st Newtown Scout Group in Newtown, Powys. Sir John kindly donated the mitt and the seller’s father bought it. At that time, Sir John had a home nearby in the village of Llanfair Waterdine. It’s timely to offer this historical find now as May marks the 70th anniversary of the Everest Expedition and there’s a royal coronation connection.”
He continued: “The mitt signifies a pivotal moment in the expedition as 27,400 feet was the highest altitude gained by Hunt. At that point he was overcome by fatigue and altitude sickness and his life was at stake.”
Hunt chose two pairs of climbers to make the final push for the summit. The first pair, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans, came within 330ft on May 26 but turned back after running into oxygen problems.
The same day, Hunt, ascending with Sherpa, Da Namgyal, intended to reach 27,900 feet to leave equipment for the second summit party of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The pair came to Hunt’s rescue when he could not move any more. Hilary fetched his oxygen apparatus and put Hunt on a maximum flow of six litres per minute.
Jim said: “Three days later on May 29, 1953 Norgay and Hillary reached the summit of the world’s highest mountain. The news was reported on the morning of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on June 2 that year. Thanks to Sir John Hunt’s generosity the mitt was sold in a small sale decades ago. This is its first run in a public, worldwide auction, and it could be very exciting. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The mitt will be offered in Hansons Auctioneers’ Travel and Exploration auction.
The sale also includes an important Blaeu atlas of England & Wales from 1645 in period vellum binding, £10,000-15,000; numerous early and scarce maps with a total value of £10,000-15,000; an original passenger seat from Concorde, £1,500-£2,500, and Titanic memorabilia.