A cigar smoked by Sir Winston Churchill is expected to raise around £6,000 when it goes to auction in December.

The iconic item would have just been swept up and binned, had it not been for Violet King, who was working as an usherette at the London Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane in January 1953 when Churchill and wife, Clementine, paid a visit.

Violet’s great nephew, Julian Lewis, explained what happened next: “Violet saw Churchill drop the cigar he’d been smoking. She picked it up and treasured it for the rest of her life.

“In April, 1953, she wrote to Churchill to ask if she could tell her friends she had his cigar. Amazingly, she received a letter on Downing Street-headed paper with a friendly note signed by Churchill’s personal secretary Jane Portal.”

The note, dated 8 April 1953, read: “The Prime Minister wishes me to thank you for your letter of April 1. He has, of course, no objection to you telling your friends that the cigar you found is his and much appreciates your goodwill.”

The letter, cigar and a newspaper cutting from the Daily Telegraph about Churchill’s visit to the Coliseum are in exceptional condition thanks to an innovative family business, Mr Lewis added.

“Back in 1953, Violet’s niece, Lillian Corbitt, owned a plastics company called Visijar which was pioneering plastic for baby incubators. She had the cigar, letter and newspaper cutting encased in the material. That’s why they’ve have survived so well.”

He continued: “The cigar and letter were left to my father who gave them to me about 30 years ago. They’ve been stuck in a drawer all that time. The cigar only comes out very occasionally to show friends if Churchill’s name crops up in conversation. I’d like to sell it to someone who will really appreciate it. Perhaps it deserves to be on display at a museum.”

The Churchill cigar and letter will be sold at auction on 11 December at Hansons Auctioneers. www.hansonsauctioneers.co.uk