The Independent Archive 13 September 1989: A dickens of a draw for literary fans
How much is Daphne du Maurier's writing table worth? John Windsor looks at the market in writers' memorabilia
Monday 13 September 1999
But, unlike other memorabilia - pop stars' belongings, or medals, for example - the possessions of literary names appearing for the first time at auction are traditionally estimated according to their lower intrinsic value other than their higher sentimental value. That is the cautious policy of the auctioneers. It also helps to pack the saleroom - where, in a highly charged atmosphere, fanatics are at liberty to bid each other up to ridiculous prices. It's a bit of a bagatelle.
Brian Luxton, one of Phillips' furniture specialists, expects the William IV mahogany table with leather inset top, two fitted drawers and reeded, turned legs, to fetch pounds 800-pounds 900 or more, about pounds 300 above estimate, without the du Maurier connection.
Lots sold above estimate always create a good impression, at least on paper. Sotheby's sold Virginia Woolf's desk for pounds 2,800 in 1980, against an estimate of pounds 1,800-pounds 2,000. The high price was due to its redolence of the author. It was a hand-painted, stand-up scribe's desk. She would, wouldn't she? Phillips sold the late Arthur Koestler's desk, estimated at pounds 1,200, for pounds 1,800 in 1983. Although he was known to have written more than 20 famous titles at the desk, including The Ghost in the Machine and The Roots of Coincidence, the auctioneers reckon that Koestler enthusiasm contributed minimally to the above-estimate price. His death by suicide may have discouraged bidders.
Pre-eminent in the authors' desk and chair market is Dickens. The fruitwood smoker's bow chair which he left empty at his death was immortalised in a watercolour and a globally distributed woodcut by his illustrator Sir Luke Fildes.
Identical reproduction chairs and accompanying desk are now the stock in trade of a business run by Dickens's great-great-grandson Christopher Dickens and his wife Jeanne-Marie, who own the originals. Replicas of the chair and the mahogany desk with sloping writing top, which Dickens is thought to have designed, are stocked by stores in Singapore, Tokyo and Fortnum and Mason's in London, where there is a pounds 4,500 price tag. They sell for $18,000 (pounds 11,764) at Marshall-Fields, the Chicago store. Reputable auctioneers always ask for provenance, preferably written, before accepting big-name memorabilia for auction. There was tut-tutting among Dickens enthusiasts this year when a "Dickens" desk, with all provenance lost but described as "William and Mary", made more than pounds 2,000 at a West Country auction. As any Dickens buff will tell you, Dickens disliked antiques.
London auctioneers often consult Dr David Parker, curator of the Dickens House Museum in Doughty Street, London. He recently dismissed as "an insufficiently cunning attempt at deception" a writing box of the 1820s fitted with a plate of later date inscribed "C.J.H. Dickens, 9 Bell Yard, Fleet Street". Dr Parker knew that in 1912, in an article in Nash's Magazine, Charles Van Noorden had located the office where the young Dickens had worked as a court reporter as 5 Bell Yard, Carter Lane, Doctors' Commons - a quite different place from Bell Yard, Fleet Street. The auctioneers were advised not to trust the inscription.
To make matters more complicated, many Dickens-inscribed brass plates pinned to memorabilia do indicate good provenance. It was the fashion in Victorian times to snap up the memorabilia of notables at auction and add a brass plate, just for good measure. Many such curios came from Christie's auction of Dickens's own effects following his death in 1870. It made pounds 9,410.0s.6d. A walnut writing case went for pounds 6.16s.6d. Somewhere, from the same auction, there may still exist Dickens's stags' heads and antlers with brass plates, added later, nailed to them.
From `The Independent', Wednesday 13 September 1989
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Howard Jacobson: Let's see the 'criticism' of Israel for what it really is
- 2 Gingers face extinction due to climate change, scientists warn
- 3 Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014: In defence of Mesut Ozil - the Arsenal midfielder works magic in the shadows
- 4 BBC’s new Game of Thrones slayer 'The Last Kingdom' relies on Saxon appeal, creators say
- 5 PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
British jihadist calls for 'flag of Islam' over Downing Street and Buckingham Palace
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
There’s a nasty smell in the political air – and it’s coming from the Tories