Downing Street Road Sign for Bonham Auction

Famous street sign among lots in annual Gentleman’s Library sale

The General Election phoney war is hotting up and Bonhams is offering a rare chance to buy a slice of British political history when a 19th Century Downing Street road sign comes under the hammer at its Gentleman’s Library Sale on 20 Jan.

Downing Street SignOne of the most famous street signs in the world, this historic piece was one of a number of road signs sold off in the 1980s by Westminster City Council where it occupied pride of place in the yard foreman’s office.

Made from cast iron with raised lettering on a white ground the Downing Street sign is priced at between £4,000 – 6,000.

Outstanding antique letter boxes – Victorians’ email equivalent

The annual Gentleman’s Library Sale – named most original auction title in 2008 – also features the Gavin Littaur collection of antique letter boxes, undoubtedly the finest collection of its type to come to auction according to Bonhams Head of Collectables, Jon Baddeley. The boxes became popular among the landed gentry in the late 1840s when the introduction of a regular and reliable national postal service led to a vast increase in letter writing. Grand country estates were so remote from post offices that they kept their own small post boxes in the hall or the library for the use of the household and its guests. A member of staff would empty the boxes several times a day and ride with the mail to the closest post office returning with the latest incoming mail. “It’s like the Victorians equivalent of email, said Bonhams head of Collectable, Jon Baddeley. “With so many collections and deliveries you could correspond with people several times during the course of a single day.” Private post boxes survived into Edwardian times but became redundant when the era of fully staffed country houses came to an end.

The collection has been built up over many years by Gavin Littaur, an internationally renowned expert on the history of the British postal service.

Enormous ice age cave bear

Also included in the sale is the huge skeleton of an ice age cave bear (between 50 – 100 million years ago). The Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus) was a species of bear which lived in Europe during the Pleistocene period, and became extinct at the beginning of the Last Glacial Maximum which occured about 27,500 years ago.

Other fossils in the sale include a Crinoid from the Holzmaden shales in German, dating from the Jurassic Period (206-144 million years ago) Crinoids from this region are among the most sought after fossils and have become increasingly difficult to obtain.