Winston Churchill's Calgary cowboy hat up for auction in London

Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and John Lennon never stepped foot in the same place at the same time, but some of their belongings are sitting in one room in London right now, ready to be auctioned off.

Among historical items from collector with 'insatiable appetite for the curious, the famous and the infamous'

An employee at Christie's Auction House shows off the Stetson presented to former British prime minister Winston Churchill by the City of Calgary. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and John Lennon never stepped foot in the same place at the same time. 

Some of their belongings, though, are sitting in one room in London right now, ready to be auctioned off. 

The former monarch's undergarments, the late prime minister's Canadian hat and the music legend's cufflinks are among dozens of items amassed by one man over the past 40 years.

David Gainsborough Roberts, 72, has handed over his collection to Christie's Auction House, where staff will sell each of the 70 items to the highest bidder on September 14.

The eccentric David Gainsborough Roberts, 72, says he's ready to share his collection with the world. (James Mollison/Christie's Auction House)

"The time has finally arrived to share my collection with the world," Roberts said in a statement. "I hope my insatiable appetite for the curious, the famous and the infamous will inspire a new generation of custodians."

Roberts, who lives on the English Channel Island of Jersey, first showed an interest in collecting historical items at nine years old. His elderly aunt gave him a wood fragment of HMS Victory, considered the British navy's most famous warship.

"I thought it was the greatest treasure in the world," Roberts recalled. "My appetite was whetted."

Roberts actually acquired many of the items from Christie's auctions over the years.

"We see collectors of specific things coming through our doors on a daily basis," Christie's head of sale Celia Harvey told CBC News, "but to have something as diverse as this collection, it is really unique."

Small piece of Alberta history

Bids on Churchill's off-white Stetson are expected to reach $10,000. The hat features Calgary's coat of arms and the words "Presented by City of Calgary" and "Churchill" inscribed inside the rim.

It's believed to have been handed to Churchill during a visit to Calgary in August 1929, before he became British Conservative leader and later prime minister. Pictured in many hats over the years, Churchill was seen wearing the Biltmore "Cariboo Trail" model Stetson while painting in France in 1957. 

"Other than that, we imagine it was worn quite a lot throughout his career because he was a big fan of Stetsons particularly," Harvey said.

Since Churchill's death, the cowboy hat has changed hands several times, including once at an auction in 1972 in Sydney, Australia.

Other famous owners 

Queen Victoria's underwear, described as "split drawers," features "VR 36" embroidered beneath a crown and a draw-string waist. Also up for auction: Victoria's cotton nightgown and a slice of cake from her February 1840 wedding to Prince Albert, complete with its commemorative box.

Roberts obtained at least two pairs of cufflinks belonging to John Lennon and he's putting both up for auction. One pair was given to Lennon for The Beatles' famous debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Lennon is said to have received the other pair from band manager Brian Epstein.

Christie's says these keys from the Titanic belonged to a crew member who survived the doomed 1912 voyage. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

A set of keys from the Titanic, a boxing title belt and a desert robe once belonging to military officer Thomas Edward Lawrence — better known as Lawrence of Arabia — are also among the items being auctioned off.

A silk headdress once belonging to Thomas Edward Lawrence, the military officer who inspired the movie "Lawrence of Arabia," is expected to fetch up to $25,000. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

"(Roberts) has sought after pieces which really have a story to tell," said Harvey. "It's not necessarily the world they come from, but the history behind them, that interests him."

She expects Roberts' collection will fetch about $250,000.


  • A previous version of this story erroneously said a pair of cufflinks had been given to John Lennon during the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1975. In fact the appearance took place in 1964.
    Sep 07, 2016 11:54 AM ET


Thomas Daigle

Senior Reporter

Thomas is a reporter for a variety of CBC News programs, currently based in Toronto. Previously at CBC's London, U.K. bureau, he reported on everything from the Royal Family and European politics to terrorism. Thomas filed stories from Quebec for several years and reported for Radio-Canada in his native New Brunswick.