Papers of famous and infamous for sale
Des Schollum’s collection of handwritten documents is a who’s who of history, featuring everyone from Winston Churchill to Charles Dickens.
But at 69, the Lower Hutt collector has reached the ‘‘dreadful’’ decision to put them up for sale.
His addiction began 40 years ago when he was browsing in a Wellington antique shop and was stunned to come across a handwritten note from British naval officer Sir Thomas Hardy.
‘‘I thought that should be in a museum.’’
The bookshop owner and history buff later acquired a letter written by Napoleon Bonaparte, Hardy’s French foe. ‘‘It just gave me a buzz to think that Napoleon’s thoughts had travelled down his arm to a piece of paper. It’s one degree of separation.’’
He now has about 400 documents and, despite his decision to sell, can’t stop collecting.
‘‘I’ve really got the bug – a bit like an alcoholic in some ways. It’s very hard to stop.’’
The collection features everyone from Mother Teresa to Richard Nixon, but he considers the jewel in the crown is a letter signed by British spy and World War II hero Odette Hallowes.
‘‘She was a tough lady. She had her toenails pulled off, put in a freezing German cell in Ravensbruck concentration camp, with only a blanket, in the middle of German winter . . . she never gave them an inch.’’
Hallowes endured the torture by detaching herself from her body; inducing a sort of hypnotic out-of-body experience that masked the pain. ‘‘Her husband told me later that she’d told him all they’d have had to do was bring in a snake and she’d have told them everything,’’ Schollum said.
The collection is likely to be put up for sale by one of Europe’s prestigious auction houses.
Ideally, he said, the collection would be on permanent display, but the logistics of that might prove too difficult.
‘‘But who knows, someone in New Zealand who fancies what I do might buy it.’’
The Dominion Post asked Auckland handwriting analyst Mike Maran to blindly assess letters from Schollum’s collection, including the handwriting of 18thcentury explorer Henry Morton Stanley and New York mob boss John Gotti, who was writing from jail.
Of Gotti, he said: ‘‘I can see confusion, muddle-headedness, maybe someone who looks forward to the future, maybe a slight mental problem.
‘‘This is somebody imposing or who wants their way – somebody you wouldn’t want to take on. Somebody ambitious, quicktempered and brutal.’’
On Stanley: ‘‘Probably somebody reasonably well-organised and logical, but maybe a bit absentminded. I see . . . someone who enjoys discussion, but also their personal space.’’
Des Schollum among his enormous collection of letters and autographs from historical figures including this vellum from King Charles 1.
An envelope addressed by Charles Dickens, left, and a letter from US Mafia boss John Gotti, above, are part of the collection of 400 documents and letters.