Sotheby's had arranged a quiet room for her to listen to the bidding over the telephone. 'But I thought it would be more exciting to see it. No one would recognise me,' she said after the sale.
In fact television, radio and the daily press had turned out in strength to see how the widow of one of Britain's most famous spies handled the sudden accretion of riches, and all cameras were focused on her. But the media was outsmarted at the end when Mrs Philby slipped through a private exit behind the rostrum, escorted by Sotheby's most experienced heavies.
The auction totalled pounds 152,628 but Sotheby's helps itself to 25 per cent of that total - 10 per cent commission from the seller and 15 per cent premium from the buyer. However, Mrs Philby will get an extra pounds 7,000 or so from the private sale of mementoes such as Philby's hat, cufflinks, and cocktail shaker, which were withdrawn to avoid criticism. And she still owns the 32 lots that failed to find buyers yesterday, mainly printed books which had belonged to Philby's fellow spy Guy Burgess.
The success of the sale was assured by an American collector who sat in the front row but also escaped behind the rostrum, preserving his anonymity. He bought all the Philby memorabilia, however high he had to bid. He spent pounds 5,980 against the pounds 1,200-pounds 1,500 expected for an elaborate model of a sputnik circling the world presented to Philby by the KGB on his 75th birthday.
The star lot was a group of 11 letters from Graham Greene to Philby written between 1978 and 1988. They had been expected to sell for about pounds 5,500 but a fierce bidding battle between the American and a telephone bidder carried the price to pounds 26,450 - the telephone won.