Posted on: June 27, 2018

Churchill cigar lights up May auction at Trevanion & Dean

Two pieces of important military history created a bidding battle when they were offered at Trevanion & Dean’s 1,000 lot monthly auction on Saturday 19th May.

The first to be offered was a Grana British Army Watch circa 1945, the unassuming wristwatch was part of the WWW series of watches (Watch, Wrist, Waterproof) which are the most popular and collectable military watches amongst all those issued to the British Army, as Christina Trevanion, partner at the firm and auctioneer explains. ‘The WWW series of watches, or the ‘Dirty Dozen’ as they are popularly referred to, were the first to be specifically designed and custom made for the British Army’.  There were twelve Swiss manufacturers of the WWW watches and they all look incredibly similar with the characteristic black dial, numerals and luminous hands’.

Grana was one of the companies instructed to produce them, but Grana only created around 1,500 of these particular watches.  Consequently, finding a Grana WWW is considered to be the ‘Holy Grail’ by many military watch collectors, who aspire to own all twelve of the ‘Dirty Dozen’.  It is said that there are only twenty collectors around the globe who have full sets.

‘The watch was brought in to me during one of our routine valuation days here at Trevanion & Dean’ explains Christina ‘From a lady who lives near Nantwich, she explained that her husband had been working on a building site sixty years ago, and didn’t have a watch.  As a result he kept asking the foreman what the time was, the foreman was so fed up of telling him the time, the very next day he brought in a ‘spare watch’ and gave it to him. It was an absolute honour and a joy to handle the sale of this watch, the lady who owned it did not realise its massive desirability, and so she was delighted when I estimated it at £2000 -3000.  There have only been seven Grana watches sold at auction since 2012, and the prices realised have ranged from between £3,500-£5,500.  Ours had suffered some damage after its years on a building site and so I was modest in my expectations.  We had phenomenal amounts of interest in the piece prior to our auction’.

The watch was hotly contested by collectors at the auction and after an intense bidding battle between two collectors, sold to an international buyer for a world record price of £9,000.  ‘The seller was absolutely delighted when I telephoned her after the auction to let her know the result.  That watch has been sitting in a drawer for the last decade, so there is a lesson to us all – you never know what you might have squirrelled away! It is often the most innocuous looking things that have the most value in the current market’.

Watches proved particularly popular at the auction as other top selling lots were a George III pocket watch by John Arnold which sold for £6,000.  Arnold was one of England’s most important watchmakers who invented the detent escapement, and presented one of his watches to King George III himself.  £1,050 was achieved for a Rolex Oyster and £1,000 for an Omega Speedmaster professional Mark II amongst many other buoyant results. ‘Watches are proving to be a timely investment for collectors and connoisseurs alike, with prices increasing year on year for the most sought after brands’, explained Christina.

The next military interest lot to hit the headlines was a particularly unusual artefact in the form of a half smoked cigar.  But this was no ordinary cigar, as it was left half-smoked by Sir Winston Churchill on his voyage aboard HMS Duke of York in 1941 to meet President Roosevelt.

Auctioneer Aaron Dean explains ‘This particular cigar comes from an incredibly important point in our modern history, Churchill was sailing with his chief of Staff and military advisors to meet with Roosevelt following the attack on Pearl Harbour and America’s entry into World War II to support the allies.  Churchill is known as one of the greatest leaders in our history, the ‘British Bulldog’ whose moral courage and patriotism helped steer the nation through World War II.  The cigar is something we all instantly associate with Churchill, throughout his political career he was practically inseparable from his cigars, and here is a rare opportunity to be able to own on of Churchill’s personal cigars.  Other ‘Churchill’ cigars have been offered on the open market but none from such a pivotal period in our history’.

The cigar was collected by Reverend Robert Rowland Evans (Robin) (1900-1991) while he was the ships Chaplain and was offered in Trevanion & Dean’s auction of 19th May 2018.

Reverend Roberts was appointed Chaplain of HMS Duke of York in 1941 and remained with her for the duration of the war, although he has since passed, he recorded his recollections of the voyage in 1991, in which he states ‘that a reserve officer from HMS Caroline came onboard to manage the War Room. While he and I were in conversation, there suddenly appeared the Prime Minister followed immediately by some of his chiefs of staff. I remember vividly Sir Dudley Pound, First Sea Lord, arriving first and sitting himself down, followed by other Chiefs of staff which included CIGS Sir John Dill, Lord Portal and, I believe, the Chief Military advisor Canadian Government. It was certainly a moment of gloom. I felt “I’m in Court, out of my depth and certainly out of place” but as I made my move to make my exit the Prime Minister said to me “Please abide Padre” and I did for a moment or two and then edged my way out’.

Churchill summed up his love of cigars when he said: “Smoking cigars is like falling in love. First, you are attracted by its shape; you stay for its flavour, and you must always remember never, never to let the flame go out!”

The lot is accompanied by a handwritten note explaining the circumstances of its acquisition and a copy of the interview with Reverend Roberts.  Many ‘Churchill Cigars’ have appeared at auction in recent months and years, but few with such fantastic provenance as the one sold by Trevanion & Dean, and therefore the piece proved to be a difficult item to put a value on, as Aaron explains, ‘Similar cigars have sold for the £1,000 region at auction in recent times and so I estimated the piece at £600-£1000’ the cigar was featured within the national press and as such, caught the eye of keen Churchill fan, journalist and broadcaster Piers Morgan.

A bidding war ensued between several private collectors before finally being secured by Mr Morgan for £2,600.  ‘Piers was delighted with his purchase and messaged us to express his joy at acquiring such a historically important artefact for his collection.  We hope he enjoys being its custodian, its gone from being owned by one PM to another (very different) PM!’ explained Aaron.