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George Mallory’s ice axe sold, but was it really his?

George Mallory's ice axe sold for $240,000 CAD at an auction in April. Questions have been raised about whether the axe belonged to Mallory or not

On Apil 10, a Chrisite’s auction item listed as “Lot 216 – an ice axe” sold for a staggering $240,000 CAD despite being listed for only $14,500. The “ice axe” was rumoured to be George Mallory’s which he used on Mount Everest in 1922.

American investor and climbing enthusiast Warren B Kanders bought the ice axe and after month of expert analysis, there are  doubts it was even made in his lifetime.

In the spring, British climbers did not want the important artefact to be sold and exported to the U.S.A. Climber Kenton Cool, who has stood on Everet’s summit 11 times said, “This axe is a symbol of our national spirit, grit, determination and a will to succeed against the odds. I hope that the axe stays in our country, remaining on display for anyone who wants to connect with this important moment in our history.”

Some have called Mallory’s ice axe the Excalibur of climbing. While retreating from an attempt on Everest May 21,1922 Mallory was descending with Edward Norton, Henry Morshead and Howard Somervell. Morshead fell and Somervell who attempted to anchor them could not and they all slid toward the Rongbuk glacker 1,000 metres below. Mallory plunged his axe into the snow and looped the rope around it which stopped everyone from falling.

As Ed Douglas wrote The¬†Guardian, “According to Christie’s, Ruth Mallory, George’s widow, gave an ice axe to the Pinnacle Club, a women-only climbing group. It was then passed on to a member, Nancy Carpenter, who in her 80s gave it to her neighbours, the Threkeld family, the vendors, in April.

“But when Jerry Lovatt, responsible for the Alpine Club’s artefacts and an expert witness for the Arts Council, looked closely at photographs of Everest that year, the ice axe in Mallory’s hand did not seem to be the one for sale at Christie’s. ‘It’s possible Mallory had two axes on the mountain,’ he says, ‘but it seems unlikely. My best guess is that the ice axe sold in April wasn’t there.'”

George Mallory's ice axe

To add to the mystery, the name on the axe is Horeschowsky which likely refers to Alfred Horeschowsky. The Austrian climber manufactured equipment starting in 1927, three years after Mallory’s death.

The axe of Mallory’s partner, Andrew Irvine, was recovered in the 1933. Irvine’s axe, much like most from the early 1920s, was custom made and had no manufacturer’s marking.

In a statement, Christie’s said: “Lot 216 was sold by Christie’s as ‘an ice-axe,’ on 10 April 2014. Said to have been used by George Mallory and previously exhibited as such, Christie’s catalogue description, estimate and saleroom notice reflected that we could not state with certainty that this lot belonged to or was used by Mallory.”

British climber Jay McLeod said, “Whether it’s ‘the axe’ or not, it seems to have been owned by the inspiration that is George Mallory and therefore should have been kept in the U.K. and not on some American mantelpiece. Such a shame I didn’t have that kind of cash spare.”

Andrew Irvine and George Mallory Photo Wikipedia
Andrew Irvine and George Mallory Photo Wikipedia