Many records were smashed at Christie’s sale Charlie Watts: Gentleman, Collector, Rolling Stone which brought to auction one of the finest collections of modern first editions to appear in a generation.
The two-part sale of literature, detective fiction and jazz was offered in a live sale at King Street on September 28 and an online sale that closed the following day.
Lead specialist Mark Wiltshire reported that pre-sale interest attracted bidders from 32 countries and that 40% of registrants were new to Christie’s.
The live sale of some 200 lots took a relay of four auctioneers, led by Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkänen, nearly six hours to sell. At the sale’s peak a crowd of some 50 bidders and onlookers filled the Great Room at King Street with many more following the auction online.
The combination of the quality of the books and perhaps a little stardust resulted in 68 new auction records in part 1 alone.
Watts was an avid reader and collector of many things from Nelson memorabilia to classic cars - even though he never learnt to drive - so it may be surprising to know that he started collecting books only in his 60s.
Nearly all the literature and much of the jazz collection were purchased from dealer Peter Harrington in Chelsea. Owner Pom Harrington relates the story that it all started when Watts was living in London in the mid-2000s and would walk his granddaughter to school: “The route went past our Chelsea shop and one day Charlie came in to browse the shelves and left with a PG Wodehouse purchased for £100.
“The collecting grew from there and within nine months I had sold him a first edition of The Great Gatsby in a dust-jacket.”
Harrington says that Watts “understood the importance of condition and was particularly attracted to inscribed copies, those books which have been in the hands of the author and which have a personal association”.
The collection grew to include signed first editions of literary works by Samuel Beckett, Graham Greene, George Orwell, HG Wells and Oscar Wilde. Watts’ particular love of detective fiction and American noir led him to collect Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. He also amassed an extensive collection of works by PG Wodehouse.
The highest bid in the sale was for an extraordinary copy of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a novel that defines the Jazz age beloved by Watts, inscribed by the author to his friend and former colleague, the Hollywood screenwriter Harold Goldman: For Harold Goldman, The original “Gatsby” of this story, with thanks for letting me reveal these secrets of the past. Although this copy lacked a dust-jacket, the superb inscription took the bidding to £180,000 hammer, just shy of its £200,000 low estimate.
The following lot was another copy of The Great Gatsby, this time uninscribed but with a rare (slightly chipped) dust-jacket that sold for £80,000 (estimate £100,000- 150,000) to the same room bidder.
As reported in ATG No 2612, there was much interest in a presentation copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, inscribed by Doyle I perambulated Dartmoor before I wrote this book.
This was the first inscribed copy of this title to appear at auction in 30 years and the note may have held a particular appeal for Watts, whose house in Devon was just 15 miles north of Dartmoor.
Estimated at £70,000-100,000, bidders drove the price to a record £170,000, won by an online bid. An inscribed first American edition of Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet - which was only the second inscribed copy recorded at auction - made £26,000.
Outstanding Christie group
Around 20% of the live sale total was realised by an outstanding collection of 25 works by Agatha Christie, and more were offered in the online sale. Many of these copies came from the library of Christie’s personal secretary, amanuensis and close friend Charlotte ‘Carlo’ Fisher who started working for Christie in the mid-1920s.
Fisher owned over 80 books by Christie, nearly all of which had been inscribed and presented to her. It was unfortunate that Fisher discarded the dust-jackets that went with them, but Watts was able to acquire other copies with jackets and would add them to Fisher’s copies when the opportunity arose.
The catalogue clearly stated when dust-jackets had been supplied from other copies and the bidding suggests this did nothing to temper the prices. The earliest inscribed Christie in the sale was a first edition of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), a book described as ‘the ultimate detective novel’, of which no presentation copy had previously appeared at auction. This copy in a very good supplied dust-jacket fetched £45,000 - a world record for an Agatha Christie.
This record did not last long as just six lots later a superb copy of Christie’s The Thirteen Problems, which is the first appearance of Miss Marple, realised a new auction record of £48,000. This copy, though not inscribed, was offered in its exceptionally rare, if slightly sunned, dust-jacket and Crime Club wrap-around band.
Other exceptional copies of Christie’s works in Watts’ collection comprised the dedication copy of The Mystery of the Blue Train inscribed to Carlo Fisher, in a dust-jacket (£22,000), Murder at the Vicarage inscribed to Christie’s daughter Rosalind, in a dust-jacket (£27,000), Parker Pyne Investigates inscribed to Christie’s sister Madge, in a dust-jacket (£16,000), and By the Pricking of my Thumbs in its dust-jacket and inscribed by the author to PG Wodehouse with reverence, admiration and many long years of deeply enjoyed reading - no one like you! (£14,000).
Auction records were set for many other authors in the sale, among them Evelyn Waugh. The Watts collection included a number of works inscribed by Waugh to his close friend and former commander Major General Sir Robert ‘Bob’ Laycock.
Laycock was the dedicatee of Officers and Gentlemen and there were two inscribed copies of this book in Watts’ collection: one offered as part of a set of the ‘Sword of Honour’ trilogy in fine dust-jackets (£38,000 hammer) and a second inscribed copy in a presentation binding of blue morocco by Sangorksi & Sutcliffe which fetched £12,000. A pre-publication proof of Brideshead Revisted inscribed to Laycock for Bob, commander of the faithful set a new record at £48,000.
When Charlie Watts appeared on Desert Island Discs in 2001 the book that he chose to take to his island was Dylan Thomas’ Collected Poems.
It was no surprise to find therefore that Watts had two inscribed works by Thomas in his collection: a presentation copy of The Map of Love in its dust-jacket that realised £4800 and the author’s own copy of his first book, 18 Poems. The latter was also in its dust-jacket and had been inscribed by Thomas at different times to two separate love interests: firstly to Pamela Hansford Johnson and secondly to the American writer Emily Homes-Coleman; it sold for for £13,000.
The result was that 95% of all lots sold over both parts for a total of just over £3m hammer (£3.8m including premium), which was 143% of the total low estimate.