An anonymous donation of Winston Churchill memorabilia to the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild was able to fetch $1,575 for the nonprofit in an auction. Recognizing the value of the items and getting them to an auction was made possible through the efforts of community volunteers.
“It’s really exciting,” said Susan Appleby, executive director of the Library Guild. “It was an amazing, unexpected windfall.”
Appleby remembers the day when the doorbell rang at the Guild’s donation door, under the green awning by the library’s patio. It was a very nice gentlemen who wondered if she would accept his collection as a donation — he didn’t say where it came from or who he was and did not want a donation receipt.
The items went onto a shelf until they were re-discovered by Joanna Schumacher, a longtime Book Cellar volunteer that specializes in rare books and collectibles. Appleby credits Schumacher for getting the ball rolling by wondering what the rare artifacts might be worth.
Schumacher’s inquiries led to Mark Selker, a Rancho Santa Fe resident and private art dealer, who was called in to find out what value the items might hold as well as a way that the Guild would be able to realize that value.
Selker, a RSF Library member who had made the occasional visit to the Book Cellar, got to work.
“I don’t deal in signatures, correspondence and autographs but I was familiar enough to know that Winston Churchill is a major figure in the memorabilia and signature world,” Selker said, who grew up admiring the British leader and statesman.
Of all the ephemera the library received, Selker focused his research on two pieces of cartoon artwork by artist Frank Reynolds, one of them a study for Punch Magazine, and a letter from Churchill.
Selker said the value of historical letters typically comes from the content. While the content of the letter was fairly mundane, a response on a civil mater calling for the dismissal of individuals from the Metropolitan Police, there was value in the date of October 1910, the signature and the stationary it was written on.
Selker reached out to a variety of auction houses and negotiated an agreement with the Swann Auction Gallery in New York, which specializes in paper memorabilia. On its own, the Guild would not have been able to negotiate the same commission rate as Selker was able to due to his professional background.
The items were auctioned off in the spring as two lots in the same sale and the Guild received its check on July 21.
“We realized the items’ full potential and that was a good thing,” said Selker, noting no one knows what they might have sold for in the Book Cellar to someone not knowing what they were potentially worth. “(The Guild) are really wonderful people and they do a great job for the community. I was willing to do anything I could to help.”
Appleby said the story is a great reminder that any donations to the Guild are appreciated — it doesn’t have to be just books.
“Thank you to that anonymous donor, if you’re still in the community,” Appleby said. “The Guild is grateful.”
The donation door at the RSF Library Guild is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The RSF Library Guild is located at 17040 Avenida De Acacias, Rancho Santa Fe. Visit www.rsflibraryguild.org.