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Lot 431
WAR OFFICE - SOCIAL, MILITARY AND POSTAL HISTORY
£400 - 600
US$ 680 - 1,000
withdrawn
Lot Details
WAR OFFICE - SOCIAL, MILITARY AND POSTAL HISTORY
Two albums comprising nearly a thousand original envelope fronts, addressed - by various manners, styles and means - to the War Office, Whitehall, and latterly the Horse Guards, collected by J.W. Cooper, beginning in 1855 (with a decorative title-leaf depicting him as Autolycus, "A snapper up of inconsidered [sic] trifles", dated 1855), running from July 1855 until the 1880s, a few later; together with a family tree and some loose clipped signatures and letters to Cooper, the fronts pasted onto the album leaves, some dust-staining etc., in two volumes, half calf, covers loose and worn, 4to, 1855-1896 (2)

Footnotes

  • John William Cooper, the compiler of this most unusual collection, was a civil servant at the War Office in Pall Mall, later consolidated with the Horse Guards (the Commander-in-Chief's office transferring to Pall Mall by the War Office Act of 1870). While serving at Pall Mall, he corresponded, it seems on his own initiative, with Florence Nightingale, who was not always in accord with the department (for her letters to him, see above). He began this collection in July 1855, when the Crimean War had over six months to run. Approximately a quarter of the covers date from the period of the war and its immediate aftermath ("To/ H. Majesty's War Office/ Department for Distribution of Medals of the Russian War/ Horse Guards/ Whitehall/ London"). There is no doubt that Cooper, who clearly compiled the volumes for his own - and one assumes his colleagues - amusement, had access to the letters themselves, as he has docketed one, addressed to "The Officer in charge of/ The Missing Friends Inquiry Department/ War Office", as being "From a Clergyman!" But while Cooper's motives in making this collection may be called into question, he can claim credit for preserving a small part of the national archives - those unconsidered trifles written by the humble and dispossessed - which in the normal course of events would have been thrown away.


    A few of the covers give clear warning that their writers are deranged: "Christs Kingdom on Earth Queen of the Jews Empress of Universal Civilization. Catharina/ The Major & Commons/ London/ on Her M. Service". But the vast majority display nothing more than a lack of education. Indeed, quite a few, especially those dating from 1855 and 1856, have clearly been written by the distressed and bewildered, and as such elicit sympathy rather than mirth: "The Secretary of War, Dept,/ London/ [on reverse flap] Postman, please send this to the place where they enquire for Missing Soldiers I dont Know the propper Address and Oblige A.W."; "On Hir Majesties Buisneys/ To the Right Honourable/ Secretary of War War office/ London/ Enquirey After a Soldier"; "to Right honorable/ Secetery of the War/ office london/ inquering after a/ Soldger"; "To the/ War office London/ enquiring after a Soldier"; "On her Right Onarable Magisty/ Secatary At War/ War Ofice/ London Inquireis/ After Soldger". Others are even more poignant: "To the Honnerable/ Executor of the Dead/ Office Horse Guards/ St James/ Park/ London"; "to the agent of the London dead War office of the queen army"; "Messrs/ The Dead War Office/ London". One is addressed simply to "The Death Department/ Horse Guards/ London".

    Most of the letters are written from within the United Kingdom. But the albums also contain a scattering of letters from more far-flung places, such as Sydney NSW ("Via Brindisi/ To His Exelencey/ Minister of War/ c/o Minister of War Office/ City of London/ England/ Great Britain/ United Kingdom/ Europe"), New York ("To Her Majesty the Queen of England/ War Office/ London/ England"), Cleveland OH ("This letter is for England War Office"), Wiconisco PA ("To The English Government/ War Office/ London/ England"), Lisbon ("To/ The Right/ Honrable the Secratary/ At War War/ Office Pensions/ Office, London/ England"), Pforzheim ("To the highly respectable/ War-office of Great-Britain/ London"), or Göttingen ("England/ To the right English military-ministry/ London"). Some of the letters are addressed to specified individuals, as for example Brunel's brother-in-law Sir Benjamin Hawes (Permanent Under-Secretary of State for War between 1857 and 1862), the Earl de Grey and Ripon (Under-Secretary from 1863 to 1866), "Mr Ralph Thomson/ Commanding Officer/ Royal Artillery/ Horse Guards/ Adgutant Generals office/ London" (Permanent Under-Secretary, 1878-1895) and the Duke of Cambridge (Commander-in-Chief, 1856-1895).

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