It includes a signed photograph of Edward and Mrs Wallis Simpson, the American divorcée for whom he gave up his throne, a copy of Edward’s memoirs which he personally dedicated to Miss Hopkin, a telegram she received from the Windsors, a home movie showing Edward in his early days in exile, and a rare set of Edward VIII fantasy gold coins minted long after his abdication.
“This remarkable archive is both historic and yet deeply personal,” says Peter Preston-Morley, the expert at Dix Noonan Webb who is dealing with the auction. “For Miss Hopkin these things were her private treasures but she was fully aware of the wider importance of the abdication which shook Britain’s royal dynasty to its foundations. They represent a classic example of how an ordinary person, in this case a solicitor’s secretary, can suddenly find themselves at the centre of events making headlines around the world.”
Miss Hopkin, who latterly lived in a flat in Mayfair in the West End of London, died aged 99, in April last year and the archive is being auctioned as part of the disposal of her estate. More than 80 years previously she had joined the newly-formed London solicitors firm of Allen & Overy where she rose to become secretary to George – later Sir George – Allen, one of the founding partners. Allen had been appointed as private solicitor to Edward, Prince of Wales in 1935 on the recommendation of Walter Monckton, the Prince’s legal adviser, whose life Allen had helped to save during the First World War.
A year later the Prince succeeded as Edward VIII, following the death of his father George V, but was soon confronted by a choice between the throne and his relationship with Mrs Simpson, who could not become Queen. Allen played a central role in the crisis that ensued, persuading Edward to address the nation directly on radio, helping with the draft of his abdication speech, advising on the terms of Parliamentary legislation to permit the abdication and negotiating a financial settlement.
Edward later said: “George Allen stood like a stone wall during our worst hours. At a time of extreme tension he would have one calm pronouncement, ‘I won’t be stampeded’.” Allen became a personal friend of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as Edward and Mrs Simpson became after their marriage, and continued as their solicitor until his death in 1956.
Fairlie Hopkin, the secretary from a modest background in Leyton, East London, remembered those days for the rest of her life, recalling how telephone calls from Edward were treated with the highest priority. “If he rang the office, naturally the call had to be put straight through to Sir George,” she said. “The Windsors came to the office on several occasions. When the Duke was to become Governor General of the Bahamas in 1940, they came to see Sir George before they went off.”
“At the office we had a very old fashioned lift that worked on a rope and took two people at a time. The lift man was a dear old man, and when we knew the Windsors were coming we had to tell him so that he was ready with the lift. They were awfully nice – they didn’t want extra special attention, they wanted to be let in quietly.”
While Miss Hopkin remained professionally discreet both inside and outside the office, she realised that she was a witness to history and began to assemble her previously unseen archive of material relating to the Windsors. Some of it was given to her by Allen and other items came from the Duke and Duchess themselves.
It includes a signed copy of the first official photograph of Edward and Mrs Simpson, taken at Chateau de Candé in France, where they married in 1937; a superb photograph of Edward taken in 1943 by the noted society photographer Dorothy Wilding and signed by both the Duke and Wilding; and a home movie featuring Edward, Allen and Monckton taken at Schloss Enzesfeld, the Austrian retreat of Baron Eugène de Rothschild, where they went immediately after the abdication.
The Windsors clearly had great affection for Miss Hopkin. When the Duke published A King’s Story: The Memoirs of H.R.H. The Duke of Windsor he sent her a copy with the endpaper inscribed “To Fairlie Hopkin with best wishes from Edward, September 1951.” Following Allen’s death in 1956, they sent a telegram from Munich to her at home which said: “We are distressed over Sir George’s death and send you our sympathy and understanding at this sad time.” The book and the telegram are included in the auction lot, along with a variety of other photographs, books, newspapers and memorabilia.
Dix Noonan Webb will also be auctioning an extremely rare set of Edward VIII fantasy Crowns produced to commemorate Edward’s brief reign by the coin dealer Geoffrey Hearn in 1954. No more than 100 of each of three gold coins in the set were produced for sale to collectors and just two or three sets were placed in magnificent leather presentation cases inscribed ‘Edward VIII, King and Emperor 1936.’ The cased sets were given to Edward’s key advisers, including Allen, who must have passed it on to Miss Hopkin.
Dix Noonan Webb Ltd is one of the world’s leading specialist auctioneers and valuers of coins, tokens, medals, militaria and paper money of all types. Established in 1990, the company boasts over 250 years' combined experience in this field and stages regular auctions throughout the year.
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