Pa­pers of fa­mous and in­fa­mous for sale

The Dominion Post - - News - MATT STE­WART

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.’’

PHO­TOS: ROSS GIBLIN/FAIR­FAX NZ

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.

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