31 Oct 2012
Inventor's ingenuity helped prisoners escape
An extraordinary MI9 catalog containing top secret designs for covert equipment, worthy of James Bond's gadgets will go under the hammer at Bonhams Gentleman's Library sale on 30th January 2013.
'Per Ardua Libertas' is an extremely rare book made by MI9 in 1942, detailing items produced to aid prisoners and operatives during the Second World War. It is estimated to sell for £500 - 800. Among the most fascinating designs are coat buttons and gold teeth concealing compasses, hacksaws hidden in dart boards, maps printed on clothing and cameras disguised as cigarette lighters. Other ingenious designs include maps concealed in playing cards and music records.
MI9, less well-known than MI6, was a secret department of the War Office formed in 1939 to handle covert operations and aid resistance fighters in enemy territories. It was instrumental in helping British prisoners of war, sending them advice and equipment disguised as innocuous domestic items and every-day objects.
Many of the escape aids were based on ideas by Christopher Clayton-Hutton. As well as hidden compasses and maps printed on silk, designs included flying boots for aircrew, which could be easily converted to look like a pair of civilian brogues and uniforms which could be transformed into business suits.
In 1942 a group of American Intelligence Officers traveled to Britain to study MI9 techniques and operations with a particular interest in the printing of maps on silk, so that they wouldn't rustle and could be disguised as handkerchiefs. Each secret agent was presented with a 76 page bound catalog entitled 'Per Ardua Libertas' to commemorate their visit.
Lionel Willis, Collectors Specialist commented: "Very few of these catalogs are known to have survived and the remaining copies form rare pieces of secret service history. They give a fascinating insight into the ingenuity employed to assist the war effort."
The Gentleman's Library Sale is now in its 12th year. Unique to Bonhams, the sale features all kinds of objects that may have been found in a Victorian or Edwardian Gentleman's Library from fossils to cigarette boxes, leather armchairs to globes, chess sets to family portraits.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and appraisal services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com