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When was the last time you took pen to paper and wrote a letter? In this digital age, we are at risk of losing one of the greatest communication tools of all-time - the letter.

Today we can look back at the great minds of yesteryear through their letters that collectors and libraries treasure. Will anyone keep the emails of Ian McEwan or the Twitter tweets of Neil Gaiman? No, but letters live on and on.

Typed and autograph (hand written) letters are one of the most vibrant areas for collectors of ephemera. From a simple thank you note to a rambling incoherent rant, letters can offer remarkable insights as well as sloppy penmanship, spelling mistakes and idiosyncrasies of great artists, authors, scientists and politicians.

A Selection of Remarkable Letters

Aleister Crowley autograph

I have spoken” - Aleister Crowley rants to Lady Frieda Harris, with whom he created the Thorth Tarot - £775



"There are three types of relation between decent people: 1. Perfect-love, trust, and frankness, 2. Good manners, 3., Tooth and Claw... Trust your friends, or break off so false a friendship! I have spoken," beneath which he has placed a blob of wax imprinted with his ankh-f-n-khonsu seal for extra emphasis.




Find more signed by Aleister Crowley

Ray Bradbury autography

Great review” -
Ray Bradbury thanks Chicago Sun-Times journalist Herman Kogan -
£330



A handwritten message on a pictorial card which bears a reprint of The Pumpkin Tree.

"Dear Herman Kogan!

Thanks for the great review -- so thoughtful of you to send it on!

Happy Halloween!

From Ray Bradbury."




Find more signed by Ray Bradbury

Arthur Conan Doyle autographed letter

Tea, Sherlock?” -
Arthur Conan Doyle sends an invitation -
£600





Written on Undershaw, Doyle's residence, letterhead.

"Dear Lady Maclaren,

I hope you and your party may be able to come up to tea about 4.15 today,

Yours very truly,
Arthur Conan Doyle.
I told the bearer to wait."




Find more signed by Arthur Conan Doyle

Ezra Pound authogrpahed letter

Economic bestiality” -
Ezra Pound rants at a Mr. Sayer -
£2,040





"You have wars created by economic bestiality, you have books progressively pejorated for a century by economic pressure. You have a communications service brutally sabotaged by economic entanglements, and the intellectual life progressively ruined by all these three villainies."




Find more signed by Ezra Pound

Helen Keller signed letter

I’m not worthy” - Helen Keller types a signed letter to the editor of the Ladies Home Journal -£2,195



"I only wish I could have made the story of my life more worthy of the generous praise it has received. It has meant a great deal in my life, and in Miss Sullivan's too -- the thought of the happiness that she says my compliance with your request has brought her is sweeter even than the thought of the kindness shown...."



Find more signed by Helen Keller

Thomas Hardy signed

Nice work” - Thomas Hardy writes to editor George Manville Fenn, congratulating him on his own writing - £1,875


"I read [your work] in the train on my way to the Continent – & thought as I read how much I should like to know the writer, till at the end I came to your name. I am so glad of this opportunity of expressing to you my sense of the intense pathos of that apparently simple article. The subject lingered with me all day."



Find more signed by Thomas Hardy

Vladimir Nabokov autograph

The deal’s off” -
Vladimir Nabokov backs out of a contract with Doubleday & Co. - £2,825



"On August 16 1959 I wrote you that I had decided to postpone indefinitely the writing of the novel (PALE FIRE) for which I had signed a contract with Doubleday & Co. Nothing new has happened since with respect to this matter, and I am not sure that I shall ever go back to the book I had been planning under this title."




Find more signed by Vladimir Nabokov

Ruth Plumly Thompson autograph

I never met Frank Baum” -
Ruth Plumly Thompson writes to a young fan of her books in the Oz series - £345


"Dear Connie,

I enjoyed your letter as much as you enjoy my Oz books and it was so nice to have a picture of you and that wonderful dog. ... I never did meet Frank Baum, though I read all of his books when I was a little girl so that writing the new adventures seemed just like visiting the merry old country..."



Find more Ruth Plumly Thompson

PG Wodehouse autograph

We haven’t a clue what P.G. Woodhouse is writing about to his friend “Pat” - £353




"I don't know what to say about Cookie. Surely that story they have told her isn't going to get over! Who did kill Rosella? It looks like the shady Witney brother, but why would he do it? I'll tell you what is worrying me, - the continued absence of Mike Carr. I hope he has not been written out of the script and is merely taking time off..."



Find more signed by P.G. Wodehouse

Thornton Wilder autograph

Sigmund’s 80th” -
Playwright Thornton Wilder sends a reply about Sigmund Freud’s birthday - £596



"It is to you that I owe the privilege of being among those who greeted Prof. Freud on his eightieth birthday. Had your notice reached me earlier I would have been able to collected [sic] greetings likewise from among American scientists, educators and authors; but your letter had been unusually long in crossing the water ..."



Find more signed by Thornton Wilder

Top 10 Most Expensive Letters Ever Sold on AbeBooks

1. “Cheap like Elvis Presley” - A letter from Jack Kerouac to beat activist Star Huffstickler, dated March 14, 1964 - £3,340
He discusses his former editor Malcolm Cowley. "... [he advises] I give up the way I was writing, and my subject matter of contemporary truth seekers on the road outside of the establishment, because it was too murky, 'So subternanean [sic]' he said 'That I can't see it at all' and even counselled me against writing Catholic stories like Gerard. You can bet your life I never spoke to that old fraud again ... everything that comes after his own time is worthless and non-literary and cheap like Elvis Presley more or less" he goes on to describe his treatment when visiting college campuses as more like that of Elvis than "a 'serious' American 'novelist' like Malamud, Roth, Gold, Updike, Mailer and all those poseurs." Kerouac added Cowley wanted him to be "Scott Fitzgerald or Hemingway or Cowley, for that matter."

2. “Kass” - A letter from Katherine Mansfield penned four months before her death - £5,256
Written just four months before dying from tuberculosis, this letter does deal with some of the details of her treatment but is essentially a charming, affectionate and moving letter to her father, signed “Kass”.  Salvador Dali etching

3. “A note about notes” - A letter with musical quotation from 19th century composer Gaetano Donizetti - £3,191
A brief note including a charming measure of music that combines 16 ascending and descending notes, with his name spelled out underneath. Translated from French it reads. " [Georges] Schonenberger will find the faults corrected in the blue edition. He should recommend paying close attention to them, especially on the pianoforte, -- for many of them are missing."

4 “Sodomised by a sheep” – A letter with original sketch from Salvador Dali - £1,840
Dali’s letter is written on the back of a postcard photograph of himself in Port Lligat. The details of the letter are mundane but the artist also includes a detailed erotic sketch of a human being sodomised by a sheep next to the humorous phrase 'A la pecorino' (referring to an Italian goat's cheese).

5. “No sense in my verses” – A letter from Nikola Tesla to George Sylvester Viereck - £1,731
"My dear Poet Laureate: Addressing you on the eminently proper way I am reminded that I am myself a poet, of course, on a diminutive scale as I frankly confessed to a Bard of whom you have probably never heard… There is no sense in my verses/but they are all up to date/They are just like those of Austin/The new English Laureate."

6. “Thanks for the cruise” – A typed letter from Ian Fleming to Richard Usborne - £1,731Ian Fleming autograph
In the letter Fleming thanks Usborne for having arranged complementary tickets for him and his wife on a cruise with the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company, however he continues stating that he would rather have a ship’s model of one of their boats to give to his son.  He finishes the letter signing off “Ian.” 

7. “A poet’s love letters” - A collection of letters from poet John Berryman to Shirley Eliason Haupt - £1,640
Shirley Eliason Haupt was a student, friend, and lover of Berryman.  They met at the University of Iowa where Berryman was on the faculty of the Writers Workshop.  This collection contained 12 pages of letters, envelopes included.

8. “No turkey this Christmas” – A signed letter from Beatrix Potter to family friend Ralph Cannon - £1,610
"I cannot let Christmas pass over without sending kind remembrance to you all. It's sad to think you are all away from Westmorland .. I didn't know which to feel most sorry for - your father was suffering such pain - and your mother was looking so tired .. Tell your mother I haven't bothered with any turkeys. I think the ground has got a bit sour for chicks on this side, and I have got too lazy to trail across feeding them at Hill Top." Potter dedicated her book The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck in 1908 to Cannon.

Beatrix Potter autograph9. “Quoting Mr President” - A typed signed letter from Kermit Roosevelt (son of Theodore) to Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick - £1,518
 “...I should certainly suppose it would be absolutely all right to quote Father in the foreword which you mention, but two of the three Trustees for the Estate are out of town on their Summer vacation, and the third did not seem to know very much about it. I am therefore writing the senior Trustee and shall let you know just as soon as I hear from him, which ought to be in the course of a few days. I am not quite certain yet as to just know how long I shall be here, but probably for a couple of weeks more. Best of luck, Sincerely, Kermit."

10. “Cut out the jokes” – A signed letter from German poet Johann Peter Eckermann to Mr. Schramm - £1,468
Written in German the letter is about a book by the Austrian politician Franz Schuselka.  Translated the letter reads: “My dear Mr. Schramm, please accept my sincere thanks for “Weltgedanken” by Schuselka, which I have read with much interest. Not only does the young writer detail important subject matter but his views also express a great mind and most precious character. An author of this quality should refrain from all attempts at wit and the so called juicy tone of celebrities, which is my only statement to hint some criticism of the work.”


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