Typed letter signed by Winston Churchill, sold with an unsmoked cigar for £11,200 at TW Gaze.

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Cigars, unsmoked and not, are particularly in demand, being intrinsically linked to the British wartime prime minister, as are signatures.

Both came together at Norfolk auction house TW Gaze (20% buyer’s premium) on April 18 as a lot estimated at £1500-2500 was taken up to a hammer price of £11,200, selling to an international buyer via a phone bid.

The typed letter signed by Churchill was sent not to a statesman or famous name but to an RJ Whitwell, and rather than matters of high society or politics it concerned “Siamese Fighters Golly and Cleopatra” and “Black Mollies”.


Typed letter signed by Winston Churchill, sold with an unsmoked cigar for £11,200 at TW Gaze.

Whitwell was a tropical fish breeder and distributor in West Bergholt, Kent, and the letter dated August 1951 (with an ‘8’ for the day added in pen and ink by Churchill) thanked him for a recent supply of such fish to Churchill’s home, Chartwell, also in Kent. Churchill had lost the 1945 general election but by the time of this letter was about to fulfil the role of PM again.

Among Churchill’s many hobbies and interests he was an avid animal lover. He kept goldfish in his ponds at Chartwell. In 1938, the round pond was stocked with a thousand golden orfe which he often fed personally with maggots, even when he was PM during the Second World War.

Harrods closed its livestock department during the conflict and Churchill agreed to give refuge to the stock of fish at Chartwell.

When he became PM again in 1951 he had five tanks of tropical fish installed at Chequers.

The typed message featured a manuscript pen and ink correction of a typo by Churchill, changing a typed ‘t’ at the end of ‘Siamese’ to an ‘e’.

'To smoke on the way home'

Adding considerable appeal to the lot was the unsmoked cigar given by Churchill to Whitwell when the latter visited to discuss and advise on keeping tropical fish.

The cigar was one of Churchill’s favoured brands, the now defunct La Aroma de Cuba, still completely intact and unopened in its original plastic wrapping, housed in a contemporary felt-lined, glass-fronted mahogany case.

The vendor was Whitwell’s nephew. A letter of provenance said: “Before my uncle left the next morning, Sir Winston Churchill gave him a cigar ‘to smoke on the way home’ but my uncle kept it as a keepsake of his visit.”