Throughout his life, the Duke of Windsor lived surrounded by books. There were Bibles and prayer books that were given to him in childhood by his mother and his grandmother and 20th-century history books inscribed and sent to him by the world leaders who had written them.
Books were part of the trappings of privilege, and the duke continued to accumulate them. He carted them with him whenever he changed residences, from palace to palace, first as Prince Edward of York, then as Edward of Wales and, finally, as King Edward VIII.After he abdicated in 1936 and became the Duke of Windsor, he married Wallis Warfield Simpson, and the couple - and his books - moved to Paris. There they eventually settled near the Bois de Boulogne in a Louis XVI-style mansion, which the couple leased from the city of Paris.
After the duke's death in 1972, the duchess left everything in the house as it was. When she died in 1986, Mohamed al-Fayed, the Egyptian businessman who owns Harrods in London and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, bought the contents of the house, which he largely left in place while the exterior of the mansion was restored.
A decade later, al-Fayed decided to sell the possessions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Sotheby's in New York. The sale, planned for last September, was postponed by al-Fayed after his son, Memad (Dodi), and Diana, Princess of Wales, were killed in a car crash in Paris on Aug. 30.
The auction will begin on Thursday and will continue through Feb. 27. The sale represents a bonanza for collectors for two reasons: Not only are many of the books inscribed by the powerful, rich and famous, but they are also from the first British royal library ever to come on the market.
The 3,000 books, divided into 327 lots, and the 450 documents and notebooks, in 104 lots, will be sold at 12 of the 18 sessions of the auction. Prices are expected to range from $300 for the couple's tipping books (his in pigskin, hers in morocco leather) to $40,000 for Sir Winston Churchill's "World Crisis," a history of World War I in six volumes, in which Churchill has written elaborately worded dedications to the Prince of Wales.
One of the most coveted items is likely to be a copy of "Profiles in Courage," inscribed in 1955 by John F. Kennedy: "To the Duke and Duchess of Windsor with the highest respects." The presale estimate of $2,000 to $3,000 may well prove to be conservative.
Louis Mountbatten in his dedication of his 1931 book, "An Introduction to Polo," recalls that it was Prince Edward who introduced him to the sport during a trip they made to India in the early 1920s. The book is expected to bring $2,000 to $3,000.
While many of the family dedications in the books seem impersonal to us today, there are several affectionate dedications that the duke and duchess wrote to each other. Those books given to him as a child by his mother or his grandmother contained dedications that were also extremely touching. "For My darling little David (Edward) on his 7th birthday, when he went to Church for the first time, from his loving old Granny," wrote Queen Alexandra in 1901 in a Book of Common Prayer.