Collection of UK Prime Ministers letters in sale

A private collection comprising the signatures of every one of Britain’s Prime Ministers comes for sale at Chiswick Auctions in London next month.

The assemblage of documents, letters, clipped signatures and photographs is expected to bring £9,000-12,000 as part of a designated timed online sale of Autographs and Memorabilia running from February 2-18.  

Notwithstanding the four days in 1757 when Earl Waldegrave attempted to govern or the two-day administration of the Earl of Bath in 1746, there have been 57 British Prime Ministers. The collection begins with Robert Walpole (a Treasury document instructing the payment of £223) and ends with a glossy signed photograph of Rishi Sunak.  

It includes letters, notes and missives from names such as Sir Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill that echo down the ages. However, the real challenge for collectors in the field is to track down the autographs of more obscure figures. Eight of the 57 Prime Ministers served less than a year in the post.  

While our own Liz Truss holds the unwanted record for the shortest unequivocal term of office, at 49 days, she is in the company of George Canning, who served for 119 days before dying in office on August 8, 1827 and his successor Frederick John Robinson, The Viscount Goderich, who managed 144 days before resigning in January 1828.  

Canning is represented by a letter arranging a carriage ride of July 5, 1825 and Goderich by a brief note declining an invitation. 

Most of the documents are of a relatively mundane nature. However, some are more substantive. In a three-page letter from 10 Downing Street dated November 23, 1921, David Lloyd George writes to the Conservative party MP Howard Gritten regarding an initiative to address unemployment. “This argument would be quite sound if the scheme could be confined to the case you have in mind. The whole difficulty, however, is that the scheme I fear, could not be so confined. Similar treatment would be at once claimed by all the other firms in the iron and steel industry…In a short time the Government would be in danger of finding themselves subsidising a great part of the industries of the country”.  

Complete collections of Prime Ministerial autographs are quite scarce, explained Chiswick Auctions specialist, Valentina Borghi. “The vendor is a private UK collector who has purchased all the signatures either at auction or from dealers. This collection gives the chance to learn more about British history. We are familiar with the most recent PMs but many names can be quite obscure to modern generations.”