FLEMING (ALEXANDER) Papers and memorabilia of Sir Alexander Fleming kept by his niece Mary Elizabeth (Anne) Johnston

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Lot 91
Papers and memorabilia of Sir Alexander Fleming kept by his niece Mary Elizabeth (Anne) Johnston, including a penicillin mould, notebook, photographs and other papers

Sold for £ 12,500 (US$ 17,189) inc. premium
Papers and memorabilia of Sir Alexander Fleming kept by his niece Mary Elizabeth (Anne) Johnston, comprising:
(i) a sample of penicillin mould, signed and inscribed by Fleming on the reverse "The Mould which makes Penicillin/ Alexander Fleming", mounted within a glass disc, thin black plastic frame, glass cracked, 53mm. diameter;
(ii) a penicillin picture by Fleming of a polyanthus, pasted onto a cutting from a Sutton's seed catalogue with typed key overleaf ("...Yellow. Sarcine lutea/ Red. Bacillus prodigiosus/ Leaves. Penicillium...") and subscribed "Alec's 'Laboratory' pictures", mounted on card, 100 x 125mm.;
(iii) autograph loose-leaf notes kept on his visit to France in November 1946 to honour the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Louis Pasteur, including the draft of his address given at Pasteur's birthplace ("...We are here at the birthplace of our great master Louis Pasteur, and we have come to do honour to his memory..."), and hailing Pasteur's work as prefiguring the discovery of penicillin, also with day-by-day journal entries, plus jottings on the drug's usefulness in dealing with infectious disease ("...Two ways. 1. Prevent (a) Hygiene &c (b) Prophylactic... Pasteur/ Wright/ virus Influenza. 2. Deal with microbes after in./ Vaccine therapy./ Chemo therapy./ How useful 1. Prophylactic. Before & after operation./ Local prophylactic – Lozenges 3. Curative. Large doses [?] every 3 hrs/ once or twice a day/... Inhalation. Fear of underdosage..."), 12 pages, unbound, some creasing and dust-staining, 8vo;
(iv) autograph journal-cum-notebook kept during his triumphant tour of the United States during the summer of 1945, recording inter alia the conferment of an honorary doctorate at Commencement Day at Harvard, 28 June 1945 ("...Quiet morning About 11.30 went Harvard. Chief Marshalls speech. Sat next ---- (physicist) hon degree & Cohn. After lunch relax (had no role) then processed. Presidents party started in front then stopped on steps of ---- and waited for all to go by (they saluted Pres) then we followed up on platform. Ceremony. Then short interval when photos taken and platform rearranged. Then speeches. Chairman made short speech then me. Seemed to go all right..."), this followed on 29 June by a series of medical histories including cases of anthrax, pneumonia, meningitis, etc., and by further journal entries and notes, up until re-embarkation on the Queen Mary, with place-cards etc. pasted in, some 70 pages, kept in an American ring-bound notebook ('The Spiral Note Book No.35') in pen and pencil, some dust-staining and usual signs of wear, but in overall good condition, 16mo;
(v) large format studio portrait photograph of Fleming, signed and inscribed to his niece on the mount: "To Mary Anne, with love/ Alexander Fleming/ Feb 26th 1946", slight fading from exposure to light, overall 344 x 274mm.;
(vi) four autograph letters by Fleming signed ("Alec Fleming" and "Alec"), to his niece Mary Elizabeth (Anne), giving news of his health ("...I am now well – thanks to penicillin..."), sending presents ("...I could not see anything nice at Woolworth's so I just wish you a merry Xmas..."), and acknowledging her congratulations [on the announcement of his knighthood] ("...Thank you ever so much for your nice letter. It is the little bits of praise like you gave that makes life worth living..."), 1945-1953;
(vii) two autograph notes signed by Fleming ("Alec"), accompanying gifts;
(viii) autograph letter to Fleming from his second wife Amalia, writing from Athens during their engagement ("...There is not a decent Greek bacteriology. I shall have to do something about it, writing on your desk at Danvers St... I don't remember if I ever told you that I am very fond of you? It seems very much so tonight. Letters are such cold things sometimes. They change the real meaning of things. I thought of an argument about the fear of publicity. You are not marrying just a blond you met round the corner. It is an old collaboration of the same trade as you. It is very different you know. And then I don't care for anything if I love you... My Sandy Darling... We cannot waste another 7 months of happiness. These things should not be done in a matter of fact way. You may laugh at my enthusiasm but that is what makes the beauty of life...");
(ix) autograph letter to Fleming by the surgeon Norman C. Lake ("...My little daughter, aged 10, and very dear to her mother and myself, is just recovering from a sharp attack of loba pneumonia & I am convinced as one can be that her recovery can be attributed to penicillin. I should be an ungrateful wretch if I did not write to express my gratitude... As a clinician I know only too well that much of the gratitude & thanks which I receive from patients and their relatives should properly go to you... Perhaps you may be happy to know that quite beyond the public recognition, which you have so abundantly deserved, there are daily large numbers of people who feel a personal gratitude to you for your great work...");
(x) offprint from the Ulster Medical Journal for November 1944 of his Robert Campbell Oration 'Penicillin', signed and inscribed "With compliments/ Alexander Fleming";
(xi) example of his engraved visiting card;
(xii) bronze portrait medal commemorating his Nobel prize [by R.B. Baron, 1945], 68mm.;
(xiii) pillbox of tablets prescribed for Mrs Fleming;
(xiv) telegram to him from the film star Bebe Daniels (1957);
(xv) printed contemporary and commemorative ephemera including a menu for the banquet held in his honour at the Lafayette Ballroom, Hotel Utah, in 1954, his St Mary's Hospital obituary and the order of service for his funeral at St Paul's;
(xvi) fine group of approximately twenty family snapshots, with identifying notes by his niece and others of the family on the reverse, many featuring Fleming, including his self-portrait ("Uncle Alec – taking an indoor 'photo of himself at 20A Danvers St. (cigarette in usual place!)") and showing him and his family at his Suffolk house, The Dhoon, Barton Mills (the earliest c.1925)


  • 'WE HAVE SEEN APPEAR IN MEDICINE THE MOST POWERFUL MICROBE KILLING SUBSTANCE IN PENICILLIN' – PAPERS AND MEMORABILIA OF SIR ALEXANDER FLEMING, the collection formed by his niece Mary Anne Johnston (née Montgomery); known to Fleming as 'Mary Anne' (no doubt to distinguish her from her aunt Elizabeth). Her maternal aunt, Sarah or Sally (Sareen) McElroy was Fleming's first wife, while another aunt, Sarah's twin sister Elizabeth, was married to Fleming's brother John. After John Fleming's death in 1937, Aunt Elizabeth lived in a flat over her sister and brother-in-law at 20 Danvers Street, and spent much time at their country house, The Dhoon, in Barton Mills, Suffolk. An additional link is provided by the fact that Mary Anne, like her two aunts, practised as a qualified nurse.

    The manuscript of Fleming's tribute to Louis Pasteur, delivered at his birthplace, has particular resonance: "There is only one Louis Pasteur. He was marvellous... The science of microbiology owes everything to him. I am talking as a microbiologist but Pasteur was also a chemist and the chemists will say that his greatest work was in molecular asymmetry. However that might be he as a chemist laid the foundations of microbiology and he laid those foundations as well that in the short space of 50 years since his death those foundations support a superstructure more magnificent than even the genius of Pasteur could have imagined. His spirit is with us. We continue to seek for truth... In the last few years we have seen appear in medicine the most powerful microbe killing substance in penicillin – itself a product of a microbe – a mould. It was Pasteur who was the first man to show that one microbe could kindle the growth of another. Perhaps he foresaw penicillin and the other antibiotics which we shall have in the near future..." (Further papers relating to the Pasteur Jubilee are held among the Fleming Papers at the British Library, Add MS 56107, vol.ii, ff.149.)
FLEMING (ALEXANDER) Papers and memorabilia of Sir Alexander Fleming kept by his niece Mary Elizabeth (Anne) Johnston
FLEMING (ALEXANDER) Papers and memorabilia of Sir Alexander Fleming kept by his niece Mary Elizabeth (Anne) Johnston
FLEMING (ALEXANDER) Papers and memorabilia of Sir Alexander Fleming kept by his niece Mary Elizabeth (Anne) Johnston
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