Ownership dispute halts the sale of the historic Downing Street visitors’ book.

The ownership of a Downing Street visitors’ book from the time of Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major’s leadership has caused a dispute, leading to the postponement of its sale. The government asserts that it is a significant part of the nation’s history and therefore belongs to the crown.

This red leather book contains the signatures of notable visitors, including members of royalty and world leaders such as former US President Ronald Reagan and Princess Diana. It has been described as “unique and historic” by the auctioneer, with a front panel adorned with gold tooling and lettering. Its value is estimated to be over £10,000.

The book was signed by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh during their visit to commemorate the 250th anniversary of 10 Downing Street in December 1985. Other prominent signatories include George HW Bush, the Princess Royal, Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, former prime ministers James Callaghan and Harold Wilson, as well as heads of government who attended the G7 summit in July 1991.

The book was found by a former civil servant in No 10 more than 20 years ago in water-damaged boxes stored in a Whitehall basement, according to the auctioneer. However, the sale has been put on hold after the Cabinet Office claimed it as government property, citing the Public Records Act 1958.

Despite the ownership dispute, Chiswick Auctions in West London still plans to proceed with the sale once ownership has been resolved. The auction house’s client reportedly contacted No 10 twice, in 2017 and 2020, to offer to return the book, but received no response. Although originally valued between £10,000 and £15,000, the auctioneer now anticipates a higher sale price due to increased interest.

According to the auction house, the seller, who prefers to remain anonymous, discovered the book after obtaining “permission and approval” to remove water-damaged boxes marked for incineration following a flood at 70 Whitehall. It wasn’t until 2017 that they opened the boxes and were astonished to find the book packaged carefully in tissue paper and bubble wrap.

Valentina Borghi, the head of autographs and memorabilia at the auction house, explained, “Due to health issues and financial difficulties, my client reluctantly decided to put the book up for auction in the hope of covering some of those unaffordable expenses, after receiving no response from No 10 on two occasions.”

A Downing Street source stated, “We will take action to reclaim this crown property. The book is a historical artifact belonging to the nation and should not be sold by an individual.”

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