Magazine article The Nation

Summer Follies

Magazine article The Nation

Summer Follies

Article excerpt

Ben Sonnenberg sent me a copy Sotheby's sale catalogue, which featured some of the contents of the late Kim Philby's Moscow apartment.

We discussed it over the phone. I asked Ben if there was something he'd like. He said he wouldn't mind the first edition of Forty Years in the Wilderness by Kim's father, Harry St. John Philby, published in 1957 and inscribed, "For Kim HStJBPhilby 2/12/57 Ajahtan."

This was estimated at 800 pounds to 1,000 pounds. Through a trusted agent in London, I sent in a low bid, plus one on an Azeri carpet featuring Lenin's head, presented to Philby in 1971 by an official in Azerbaijan. The catalogue note added that "having accepted the gift with gratitude, however, Philby expressed astonishment to his wife that the Islamic tradition of rug-manufacturing had been perverted by the depiction of Soviet leaders and even local bosses (like the chairmen of collective farms)." This three-by-two rug was estimated at 400 [pounds] to 500 [pounds].

The day after the July 19 sale, the trusted agent at Quaritch, whose nostrils had flared in fond reminiscence of Ben's ranpages in his high book-collecting days, phone to say that my low bids had proved futile. Forty Years in the Wilderness had gone for 1,300 [pounds] and the rug for 1,000 [pounds].

But by this time my interest had shifted from Philby's effects to a lot in an earlier portion of the auction, namely the library of Stanley Baldwin, British Conservative Prime Minister in the 1930s. Lot 318 was Hitler's 1935 Nuremberg speeches in English translation.

The Fuhrer gave these to Baldwin's emissary, the civil servant Thomas Jones. Jones recorded in his diary: "May 17. Secret. I saw the Fuhrer in his flat in Munich on Sunday morning, 17 May 1936. ... The interview lasted an hour and a half. ... Finally he gave me a signed copy of his three Nuremberg Minister. …

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