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A Passion For Books

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In February 1998 Sotheby’s in New York held a series of auctions of a rather unique collection of books. The collection, some three thousand volumes, had belonged to the late duke of Windsor-the former King Edward VIII of England-who had collected them since childhood and had taken the collection with him when he abdicated the throne in 1936. After the duke died in 1972, the books, along with the rest of his possessions, had remained in the hands of his duchess-the former Wallis Warfield Simpson-the woman for whom he had forsaken his family, his country, and his crown.


On the duchess’s death in 1986, their mansion near the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, and its contents, were purchased by Mohamed al-Fayed, the Egyptian businessman perhaps best known as the father of the man who died in an automobile accident with Diana, the princess of Wales, the estranged wife of the duke’s grandnephew Prince Charles. Some ten years later, Mr. al-Fayed decided to sell the duke and duchess’s possessions, and thus they found their way to Sotheby’s.


There were three things that made these auctions of particular interest to bibliophiles. First, many of the books were inscribed by famous and/or wealthy individuals. They included, for example, a copy of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, inscribed “To the Duke and Duchess of Windsor with the highest respects,” as well as a Book of Common Prayer inscribed “For My Darling little David [Edward] on his 7th birthday, when he went to Church for the first time, from his loving old Granny,” by Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII.


Second, these auctions represented the first time in history that books from a British royal library had ever been offered for sale. Although the royal family, as would be expected, made no comment about the auctions, one doubts that they were happy about these books being placed on the market, the sale of such items being, at the very least, unseemly.


But the third-and perhaps most remarkable-aspect of the auctions was that they were proof that although the duke of Windsor had been willing to give up his throne “for the woman I love,” he had not been willing to give up his books. Such is the mark of a bibliophile.


Harold Rabinowitz & Rob Kaplan


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Written by MattAndJojang

June 21, 2010 at 7:15 pm

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