The eight men who gathered in July 1917 to draft the Balfour Declaration, making clear the British government’s intention to create a Jewish state in Palestine, reached agreement on the brief document’s wording. But as they were writing out the text, they decided to change one word.
While the wording had originally stated that the government would “use their best efforts” to advance statehood, the word “efforts” was crossed out with a pen and replaced with “endeavors.” That word remained in the final version of the document, issued that November by British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour.
The man responsible for making this late revision was Leon Simon, a Zionist leader whose diaries and correspondences will be auctioned June 16 at New York’s Sotheby’s.
Simon’s draft, handwritten on hotel stationery with his revision, is the centerpiece of Simon’s archive; Sotheby’s calls it the only known surviving autographed draft of the Balfour Declaration.
“Imagine eight men sitting around a table in a hotel in London discussing a declaration they have been discussing for many months, and now it looks like the British government will react favorably and they have to stay put and decide on the final wording,” said David Redden, vice chairman of Sotheby’s.
Redden said that the draft of the Balfour Declaration “is almost like notes taken on the night of July 3, 1776.”
A diary kept by Simon during a 1918 visit to Palestine will also be auctioned in the collection, as will a partially typed transcript of the Balfour Declaration that includes discussion of the establishment of a Jewish charter company that would function as a mercantile body, like the East India Company in Britain’s South Asian colonies.
In addition, the auction includes a signed letter from Chaim Weizmann, which asks his colleagues to review the draft, and carbon copies of telegrams sent between Zionist leaders and British officials in the office of Winston Churchill.
Private collectors and institutions in Israel, Europe and America already have expressed interest, according to the auction house. Sotheby’s expects the archive to sell for $500,000 to $800,000.
In 2002, a pen that President Harry S. Truman used in 1948 to sign off on the document that gave official American recognition of Israel sold for $280,000 in New York.