Princess Diana letters - highlights of Book and Manuscript sale 20th March

01/03/2012     Chiswick Curates

Sale of Printed Books and Manuscripts

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Our next sale of Printed Books and Manuscripts is particularly strong in autograph and manuscript material.

Emily Shore (1819-39) was a remarkable figure. In her short life, tragically cut short by consumption at the age of 19, she produced an array of writings of extraordinary diversity and ambition including three ‘romantic’ novels, two ‘epics’, a translation of Xenophon’s Anabasis, Histories of the Jews, of Greece and of Rome, and many volumes of poetry. However, these being apparently lost (we only know of them through her sisters’ records), her reputation today rests on her Journals which she kept from the age of seven until her death. These were published in 1891, in a second edition in 1898, and again in 1991 by the University of Virginia Press.

The present holograph manuscript of “Parliamentary Speeches”, penned in 1832 in Emily’s distinctive ‘printing’ hand, is a remarkable discovery and helps shed more light on this extraordinarily fertile and original mind. Belying the manuscript’s rather dull title, the contents are fascinating for one very simple and unexpected reason. When I first read through it, I was puzzled by the appearance of what appeared to be random 4-digit numbers after the speech titles: “2127”, “1988” etc. Then it dawned on me that these were years and that Emily was imagining these speeches being made in the distant future (as 1988 would then have been, of course). Whilst the speeches are political and satirical rather than scientific, one is nevertheless reminded that that seminal work of science fiction, Frankenstein – written by another woman – first appeared just a few years before. Our manuscript, in exceptionally fine condition, although apparently incomplete at the end, is 35-pages in length and stitched into contemporary marbled wrappers. It is estimated at £4,000-6,000.

Another remarkable woman is celebrated in a collection of letters included in the sale. Sergeant Ronald Lewis (1936-2001) worked for Prince Charles and, later, Princess Diana, for 26 years, their longest-serving member of staff. The group of four – happily uncontroversial – letters written by Princess Diana, each sold separately and estimated at £300-500, recall the Diana we thought we all knew before her darker and more troubled character came to predominate in the public imagination: addressed to her household staff during the early nineties, thanking them for birthday presents, the letters are warm, generous, funny and delightfully self-deprecating: “I was totally lost for words (a unique experience!)”.

We know little of Larry Castonguay apart from the fact that he lived in Palm Springs and wrote a lot of letters. He must also have had a particularly warm and persuasive way about him since many of his huge collection of signed photographs, predominantly of film stars, are personally inscribed to him. Just occasionally he was less successful as a group of stroppy letters from agents, stating that so-and-so doesn’t sign photographs, testifies. A-listers, all signed or inscribed by their subjects, are sold individually or in small groups: Lauren Bacall (2), Marlene Dietrich (3), Kirk Douglas (2), Charlton Heston (7!), Gene Kelly (2), Sophia Loren (3), Liza Minnelli (3), Gregory Peck (6), Jimmy Stewart (who rationed Larry to just one) and many others. Estimates range from £40-60 to £300-500. The rest of the collection is contained in 3 enormous albums, the first of which contains some 400 signed or inscribed photographs by the likes of Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Dustin Hoffmann, Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, Meg Ryan, Robin Williams, etc etc. – hardly B-listers! – and is estimated at £1,500-2,500.

Another album in the sale was compiled by Theodore Gedicke between 1911 and 1918. He worked as a porter at the original Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market but it is clear that his real passion wasn’t okra but opera. The album contains, amongst many other items, a wonderful full-page signed self portrait by Enrico Caruso, another signed photograph of him and a signed photograph of Nellie Melba.

Other autograph items in the sale include Bernard Shaw, G. K. Chesterton (a 4-page letter written when he was a schoolboy), Marie Corelli, Brigadier-General Sir William Henry Manning (“Dysentry as bad as ever again”) and William Makepeace Thackeray.

The printed books (120 lots) include a further selection from the ever-surprising collection of Peter C. Forrest, a collection on espionage including a number of Len Deighton first editions and three photograph albums presented to Kim Philby on a visit to Siberia in 1971, and other books on kittens, cats, dogs, fish, rabbits (well, Peter Rabbit – a 1902 first of the trade edition), bears (Rupert Bear), billiards, draughts, London, the Titanic, leaves from a 15th-century Book of Hours, the hygiene of the Turkish army and the poisonous plants of Bombay. Just another day in the Book Department at Chiswick Auctions…

We view on Sunday 18 March from midday to 6pm, Monday 19 March from 10am to 6pm and on the morning of the sale. You’ll be very welcome to come and take a look.

Nicholas Worskett

07746 713928