Auctions | January 13, 2014

Family Archives of William Penn for Sale at Bonhams

An important archive of material relating to William Penn and his family over several generations is to be sold at Bonhams Gentleman’s Library Sale in London on 28th January. The 25 lots, which are being offered individually, are estimated to make a total of up to £40,000. 

William Penn is a significant figure in American history. He founded what is now the state of Pennsylvania on land given to him by the English King Charles II in settlement of a debt. A prominent Quaker, Penn was a strong advocate of both democratic freedoms and religious tolerance, beliefs he applied when he landed in America in 1682 to take possession of his lands. Many of the principles he laid down in the framework of government for the new Province of Pennsylvania were later enshrined in the US constitution.

The archives include:

  • letters patent signed by Penn granting a plot of land on Walnut Street, Philadelphia to Daniel Jones who had accompanied Penn on the voyage from England, estimate: £2,000-3,000;
  • a handwritten letter from Penn to the 16-year-old Sir John Rhodes, the fourth and last baronet of Barlborough Hall in Derbyshire, offering the teenager and fellow Quaker some sound advice: ‘Be retired, few in words, especially about religion’, estimate: £2,000-3,000;
  • and a heart shaped gold mounted Stuart crystal memorium pendant containing a lock of Penn’s hair and a propelling pencil made from Sri Lanka gold. Estimate: £1,500-2,000.

There are also several items demonstrating the close relationship between the extended Penn family and the British Royal Family.  A fan which belonged to Princess Amelia the daughter of George III, for example, was given after the former’s death to Penn’s granddaughter, Sophia, by the Prince Regent in memory of his sister.  It and a selection of other fans are estimated at £800-1,200.

The family also acquired by marriage:

  • the teething beads of George III, estimate: £600-800;
  • a splendid novelty gold keg snuff box, a gift from Queen Caroline, the wife of George II, to the Countess of Bute, estimate: £2,000-3,000;
  • and a rare 18th century Neapolitan tortoiseshell and gold piqué dressing set, originally a gift from the state of Venice to the Countess of Granville, wife of George III’s Secretary of State. It came into the Penn family when the Earl of Grenville gave it to his sister-in-law Lady Juliana Penn wife of William Penn’s son, Thomas. Estimate: £2,000-3,000.

Additionally, the archive contains a number of miniature portraits of the family including accomplished works by Henry Spicer, painter in enamel to the Prince Regent—later George IV—and George Engleheart, one of the greatest English painters of portrait miniatures. His portrait of Thomas Knox, 2nd Earl of Ranfurly and the husband of Penn’s great granddaughter, Mary Juliana, is estimated at £2,000-3,000. There are also a number of charming portraits by member of the family themselves.