Comical drawings of a wartime cat created by an unknown soldier are set to sell for thousands after languishing in an attic. Richard Minton, from Newcastle, is selling the hand-drawn illustrations, which feature a feline’s take on Army camp life during the Second World War.
He said they were drawn by a soldier who didn’t make it back from the war. The two manuscript books were rescued by a friend in the camp, who was Richard’s uncle.
And they were kept in a loft for 50 years before Richard inherited them around 1990, reports Staffordshire Live. The 67-year-old said: “I immediately loved the artwork and camp cat story.
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“I took the manuscripts to a war museum in London, but they said they had archives of material and didn’t know what to do with them. I then took them to an antiques expert, who dismissed them as prints. I wasn’t very impressed as they were clearly pencil work.
“I also took them to an Army museum in Shropshire. They were very nice and loved them, but didn’t seem to know what to do with them.
“I don’t want them to be hidden away for another 70 years. I want them to be seen and enjoyed.”
The ‘author’ is an unknown soldier who uses the name Little Purr. The camp cat – or kamp kat – and the books take a look at everyday camp life from the cat’s perspective.
Readers get to see Maurice the Mess Officer having a sly taste of a banger (sausage); a football match, the ‘norty’ soldiers, the ‘charr waller’ enjoying his tea; Curley doing the spud bashin’; the medical room full of ‘pore urted soldiers’ and Mush the rat catcher ‘wi sum of mi dreaded enemies’.
The scene is set on a page entitled ‘The Alterbyografy of a kamp kat’. It reads: ‘I was born in a gurd room. My mum wos a kookouse kat. I don’t know much about dad cos he was a bit of a rover and left my mum when I was born.
‘My ‘ome was a box bi the stove. I had 2 sisters and a brother. Wen us grue up a bit them others wos took away to nice omes an me was left in gard room an made a fuss of. My mum went orf wif someone else and I was left alone. The solgers all liked me and wood bring me sum of their milkie and bits of scrap meat to eat an’ I grue up to be a nice pretty kat…’
Jim Spencer, who is a paper and books specialist at Hansons Auctioneers, has hailed the artwork as ‘brilliant’ and ‘like a beautiful children’s book’.
And when he asked his Twitter followers for their opinion, it sparked viral delight and interest from US publishers. The thread led to 650 retweets and thousands of likes and comments.
Jim said: “The misspelt words add to the childlike charm and fit in beautifully with the imagery. Bearing in mind these books were created 79 years ago, what we also have here is a flavor of Army life during the 1939-45 conflict. They are both art and historical record.”
The books, bound in crude wrap-around folders constructed from salvaged Army supplies, are set to go under the hammer in Hansons Auctioneers’ July 5 Library Auction, with an estimate of £2,000 to £4,000 – and interest is strong.
Jim said: “The vendor, Richard Minton, approached me as a last roll of the dice. They’d taken the folders to an antiques valuation event, where they were apparently described as ‘just prints’ and nothing of any significance or value. They then took them to a war museum, having considered donating them, but again were met with a dismissive response.
“The vendor called me to arrange a valuation, and it didn’t sound like something I’d be too excited about, especially if they’d already been beaten away by experts, but I was intrigued enough to invite him over to Bishton Hall , Hansons’ Staffordshire saleroom.
“When I opened the folders, my eyes must’ve lit up. I just kept saying ‘I love it’. The vendor was visibly lifted by this response, as he’d finally found someone who appreciated them. The blended pencil reminded me of the work of artist Raymond Briggs. The naive style was so charming. I’ve handled 13th and 14 th century manuscripts, but this was the most remarkable illustrated work I’d ever assessed.
“I suspect many militaria specialists would’ve overlooked the significance of these illustrations. These aren’t medals, or weapons, or uniforms, and they’re not even depicting the battlefield. But I looked at these as a work of art.
“All the incidental detail of passing time in camp. The artist captures everything so perfectly, from peeling potatoes to cleaning between toes. He even captures the texture of itchy bedsheets. It’s art – brilliant art.
“It’s seemingly untrained and naïve, charming beyond words, comical, but deceptively clever in composition and style. And it’s all from the perspective of a cat! It deserves to be published and seen by the world.
“I’m always looking to unearth things and rescue them from obscurity, reveal their true importance or beauty, and this is very much one of those things where I just need someone to listen. I feel a sense of duty to the artist.
“I posted a thread on Twitter and it went viral. Artists and publishers in the USA have been in touch. It would be the highlight of my career to see this work published as a book. I would treasure a copy for my own children.”
The manuscripts will be offered at the auction, which takes places Bishton Hall, Wolseley Bridge, near Stafford. To find out more, or to arrange a free valuation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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