WORLD WAR I – THE BRITISH LEGION – fundraising album with approximately 527 autograph manuscript contributions (1922-23) including a sketch by Sir William Orpen.

For Sale at Sotheby’s London 8th July 2020 – Lot 136.

Estimate: 30,000 – 50,000 GBP.

UPDATE: Bidding Closed – which implies it was not sold.

William Orpen’s pages from the book – Pen & Wash Drawing of a soldier, the text reads – “He, who desired to live, went out to death.”



AN IMPORTANT COMMEMORATION OF THE SACRIFICES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR, COMPILED TO RAISE FUNDS FOR THE BRITISH LEGION, comprising c.527 inscriptions, signatures and other entries by a wide range of public figures, with notable contributors including:

Royals: Queen Alexandra (autograph message signed); Edward, Prince of Wales; the Duke and Duchess of York; Priness Alice, Countess of Athlone (autograph message signed); Albert and Elizabeth, King and Queen of the Belgians; King Victor Emmanuel II and Queen Elena of Italy; King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain; and others.

Statesmen: H.H. Asquith (autograph message signed); David Lloyd-George (autograph message signed, “…What happened during the years 1914-18 has no precedent in history. Never in any generation have so many young men faced the torments of mutilation and the terror of death for their country’s honour & for the redemption of mankind…”); Comte de Broqueville (identified in a note as having “signed the Belgian note refusing permission for German troops to pass through Belgium in invade France”); French Presidents Millerand, Poincaré and Clemenceau; Benito Mussolini; President Warren Harding; President William Howard Taft; Stanley Baldwin; W.L. Mackenzie-King, Prime Minister of Canada; S.M. Bruce, Prime Minister of Australia; W.F. Massey, Prime Minister of New Zealand; J.C. Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa; Andrew Bonar Law; Nancy Astor; Winston Churchill; and many others.

Military figures: Field Marshall Earl Haig (autograph foreword, incorporating a quotation from Rupert Brooke, ‘The Dead’); Marshal Joffre; Marshal Foch; General Pershing; Admiral Beatty; Air Marshal Sir Hugh M. Trenchard; Field Marshal Plomer; General the Earl of Cavan; Field Marshal Allenby; Field Marshal French; and many other commanders; also 23 winners of the Victoria Cross.

Writers, with autograph quotations signed: Robert Bridges (autograph fair-copy transcription of his poem ‘Of the First BEF’, 2 pages); Thomas Hardy (autograph quotation from ‘Moments of Vision’); J.M. Barrie (autograph quotation); Rudyard Kipling (autograph quotation from ‘The Wage-Slaves); Walter de la Mare (autograph transcription of his poem ‘Nod’); Joseph Conrad (quotation from ‘The Mirror of the Sea’); Edmund Gosse; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (quotation from ‘A History of the War’); H. Rider Haggard; W.B. Yeats (transcription of ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’); Augusta, Lady Gregory; Arnold Bennett; John Buchan; Hilaire Belloc; John Galsworthy; John Drinkwater; George Moore (quotation from ‘The Lake’); G.K. Chesterton; G. Bernard Shaw (poem commencing ‘Justinian, in history’s view’); Arthur Symons; A.E. Housman (autograph transcription of ‘Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries’); Jerome K. Jerome; Israel Zangwill; Sir Henry Newbolt (autograph transcription of his poem ‘The Service’); Arthur Symons (‘Japan’); A.A. Milne; Sir Arthur Pinero; Alfred Noyes; and others.

Artists, with original signed artwork: Sir Herbert Hughes-Stanton; Sir William Rothenstein (pencil portrait of Khudad Khan, the first Indian winner of a VC in World War I); Sir John Hassall; Sir William Orpen (pen and wash drawing of a soldier); Augustus John (gouache portrait of a woman); William Heath Robinson (full-page drawing); Christopher Nevinson (etching of a soldier carrying a wounded comrade); Solomon J. Solomon (pencil drawing of a female nude); H.M. Bateman (pen and ink self-portrait); D. Y Cameron (watercolour landscape); Sir Frank Short (etching); John Collier (pen and ink drawing); William Wyllie.

Composers and musicians, with autograph musical quotations signed: Madame Luisa Tetrazinni; Dame Nellie Melba (autograph musical quotation from La Bohème, signed); Sir Edward Elgar (autograph musical quotation from ‘The Dream of Gerontius’); Sir Henry Wood; Gustav Holst (autograph musical quotation from ‘I vow to thee my country’); Maurice Ravel (musical quotation from his Sonata for Violin and Cello); Sir Thomas Beecham; Dame Ethel Smyth; Giacomo Puccini (quotation from Madame Butterfly); Ralph Vaughan Williams; Arnold Bax; and others.

Others: Robert Baden-Powell (autograph message signed); G. Marconi; W.M. Flinders-Petrie; Sir Ernest Rutherford; Lord Beaverbrook; Lord Rothermere; Sibyl Thorndike; Millicent Garrett Fawcett; Commander Frank Wild and eleven other surviving members of the Shackleton-Rowett expedition; George Robey (pen and ink caricature self-portrait); Ellen Terry; Charles G. Bruce, George Mallory and five other members of the 1922 Mount Everest Expedition.

140 pages on 136 leaves with facing lists of names and titles, mounted in a folio album (32 x 26cm) with calligraphic title incorporating the device of the British Legion, and captions throughout, 4to, bound by Zaehnsdorf in vellum on boards with gilt borders and lettering (“The British Legion Album”), blue cloth chemise, heavy blue Morocco folding box by Zaehnsdorf with matching border and lettering.

“…Many men & women who in their several sphere and ways of life, by reason of the great responsibilities they bear, by public service, honour and esteem, or by the brilliant use of their uncommon gifts, have won eminence among their fellow-countrymen, have assisted in the making of this Book…” (Earl Haig, foreword).

A remarkable relic, including contributions by many of the leading cultural and public figures of the early 20th century, from autograph poems by Housman and Yeats, to drawings by William Orpen and Augustus John, to the signatures of Winston Churchill and Benito Mussolini. The autograph collector E. Lonsdale Deighton assembled this remarkable album for the British Legion, the charity founded in 1921 under the presidency of Earl Haig to support former Servicemen. He was following in a tradition of charity sales of autographs in support of the Red Cross that had taken place during World War I, and also the flourishing of personal albums, which had become popular and poignant reminders of absent friends during the war years. Deighton spent about 18 months soliciting contributions and his astonishing success is a testament to the goodwill in which the British Legion was held. A facsimile of the British Legion Album was published by Cassell on 10 April 1924. Copies were sold for 5s. and proceeds went to the charity. On the first anniversary of the publication the original album was offered as a prize in a ballot: it was described as “the world’s most notable collection of autographs” and was said to be insured for £25,000. The winner of the ballot was Fred Hotine, an accountant from Watford, who soon afterwards consigned it for sale at Sotheby’s, promising a portion of the proceeds as a further donation to the British Legion.


Sotheby’s, London, 30 June 1925, £350, to Mackenzie; Sotheby’s, New York, 26 June 2001, lot 10.



Text from Sotheby’s Catalogue.

Post by Dominic Lee, Orpen Research Project.