Auctions | March 20, 2014

Lawrence of Arabia Collection Sells for $316,000 at Bonhams

A collection of TE Lawrence’s letters and books and an archive of previously unseen papers about the 1917 Arab Revolt written by Lawrence of Arabia’s superior officer and close friend, Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Francis Newcombe, made a total of £192,000 at Bonhams sale of Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs in London yesterday (19 March).

The Newcombe archive was the star item making £104,500 against an estimate of £20,000-30,000.  It consisted of three Army Field Service Correspondence Books—issued to British Army Officers to record their activities, enemy positions and deployments, etc.—and a wealth of loose papers including letters to Lawrence and other fellow officers.

Head of Bonhams Book Department in the UK, Matthew Haley said, “The Newcombe diaries were very keenly sought after. They have never been seen before and are a major addition to our understanding both of Lawrence and of the relationship between the British and the local leaders of the Arab Revolt at this crucial period.”

Stewart Newcombe and TE Lawrence first met in 1913 and remained friends until the latter’s death in 1935.  Lawrence was godfather to the Newcombes’ first child and Newcombe was one of the pall bearers at Lawrence’s funeral.  The archive has remained with the family since Lt Col’s Newcombe’s death in 1956.

A copy of Lawrence’s epic work, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in a handsome binding with an 'arabian' motif, made specifically for Newcombe, sold for £50,000 having been estimated at £30,000-40,000.  Lawrence ordered a special Subscribers Edition of the book, both to sell and give to friends. Intending each copy to be unique in some way, Lawrence—who had a life long interest in book-binding—used seven different binders for this project.

Finally, the handwritten original of one of T E Lawrence’s most famous letters sold for £13,750 against an estimate £4,000-6,000. Dated 16 February 1916, the letter is a reply to one from Newcombe telling Lawrence of the birth of his first son, and asking if he would act as godfather and allow the child be named after him.  It reveals a man troubled by his reputation as a living legend and reflecting on the contrast between his heroic status in the eyes of the world and his own estimation of the value of his wartime work in Arabia.