Monday 19 March 2018

How Beckett sale tells us a lot more about commerce than literature

Part of the set of Samuel Beckett's jotters that sold for nearly £1m
Part of the set of Samuel Beckett's jotters that sold for nearly £1m

WHO was surprised that the rather scribbled-on manuscripts of Samuel Beckett's novel 'Murphy' sold at Sotheby's auction for more than €1m (purchased by the University of Reading for £962,500)? Antiquarian dealers may have whistled in appreciation, but Beckett's market stock is high, so the million-euro tag is not unexpected.

Reading University says that the six jotters "will provide unparalleled opportunities to learn more about one of the greatest writers in living memory, if not all time". At a more down-to-earth level, they could also prove a wise investment. "They could be worth double or treble that in another few years," says Nick McConnell, an experienced antiquarian dealer of fine books, based in Kent. Beckett's notebooks could conceivably fetch €10m in another decade.

As in every other field, stocks in writers' reputations go up and down. At the "top of the range" of Irish writers – Beckett, Yeats, Joyce, Swift, Wilde – there is a consistent demand for their papers and for deluxe editions of their work in good condition and in their original binding.

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