Stamps, trains and automobiles: the weirdest legacies left to Marie Curie

Among Marie Curie's strange legacies is a model train set valued at £1,000
Among Marie Curie's strange legacies is a model train set valued at £1,000 - Alamy Stock Photo

Legacies are a vital source of fundraising for charities. Even a small percentage of an estate at death can make for a generous donation. Those who have benefitted from a charity’s care may feel minded to leave them something in a will.

For Marie Curie, the charity that specialises in end of life care, this is especially the case. Its hospices and other forms of support provide comfort to those dying of cancer and other illnesses. Individuals who might not be liquid, especially if they have had to pay for extensive care, may have money tied up in their property or other assets. Most will leave the charity share of their estate, or a cash lump sum, which are relatively easy to administrate.

But not all legacies are quite so simple.

“We receive a lot of legacies over the year,” says Duane Saunders, legacy administration manager for Marie Curie. “Mainly they are cash, as you can imagine. But once in a while we will get something unusual.”

That is where Saunders’ skill comes in. Over the years, Marie Curie has been left legacies of everything from model railways to vintage cars, stamp collections, CDs and countless other assets. Even poetry. Saunders and his team must find a way to assess their value and work out the best way to sell them. It isn’t always easy.

“The whole point is that these legacies don’t come around very often, so they can be somewhat peculiar,” he says. “More often than not, we in the team will be thinking, ‘what do we do with this?’”

Duane Saunders is the legacy administration manager for Marie Curie
Duane Saunders is the legacy administration manager for Marie Curie

Recently, for example, a supporter left them an expensive collection of Egyptian artefacts. “Egyptology is not a subject we knew much about,” Saunders says. “When we received it, our first thought was ‘well, who do we ask to find out about it?’”

Other items from the collection had gone to a museum, so in the end they checked with the experts there. While the remaining artefacts weren’t up to auction standard, they were lovely decorations, so the charity was able to sell them through its charity shops.

Other donations have proved more lucrative. In 2002, the charity was gifted a Rolls-Royce. Always nice to have, but in this case it proved exceptionally so. This was a 1913 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which they sold at auction for more than £140,000.

More recently, a keen philatelist bequeathed them his stamp collection, which included stamps celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee, Doctor Who and cricket.

They found a specialist who was able to value and auction them, raising nearly £50,000. Another left a model train collection he had built up over more than 60 years, which raised £1,000. The team was briefly excited that someone had bequeathed them a Rembrandt: the painting certainly bore some similarities. Although they were unable to authenticate the work, it was still of a high enough quality that it raised more than £60,000 at auction. A piano owned by the Twenties jazz singer Adelaide Hall fetched more than £7,000.

Realising the potential value of these unusual or miscellaneous legacies, Saunders says that in recent years the charity has become more organised about facilitating them. There is an eBay page where they can list unusual stuff. They offer a collection service, where they will come to a property and assess what they might be able to use.

“Not every item in a house is going to be saleable,” he says. “Some things have to be thrown away. But with Marie Curie we can take clothes, we can take bric-a-brac, we can take books. In the past we were more cautious about electrical items but we are now in a position to take more of those, too. We’re careful about overpromising and under-delivering, but where we can take things and sell them, we will.”

On at least two occasions, the charity has been given intellectual property. In the 1970s, the wife of the poet J Milton Hayes left Marie Curie the royalties for The Green Eye of the Yellow God, a famous poem from 1911. So far it has brought in more than £14,000. More recently, a well-known conductor died and left them a share of his estate, perhaps because Marie Curie had helped care for his wife when she had cancer. Among his gifts were the royalties from more than 200 of his CDs.

For a charity, what could be better? They are, quite literally, a gift that keeps giving. An unusual legacy, perhaps, but nonetheless welcome.

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