Price of Samuel Beckett’s letters falls by half in London auction

Subjects include writer's theatrical career, including 1952 production of ‘Waiting for Godot’

Samuel Beckett:  The  collection comprised 347 letters and postcards, written in French,  sent by Beckett to his friends, the French artists Henri and Josette Hayden. Photograph:  Jane Bown/Guardian

Samuel Beckett: The collection comprised 347 letters and postcards, written in French, sent by Beckett to his friends, the French artists Henri and Josette Hayden. Photograph: Jane Bown/Guardian

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 01:02

A collection of letters and postcards written by playwright Samuel Beckett sold for €180,000 at a Sotheby’s auction in London yesterday. The price was half that paid for the same collection when it last changed hands at auction in 2006 for €360,000.

The 347 letters and postcards, written in French, were sent by Beckett to his friends, the French artists Henri and Josette Hayden. The correspondence began in 1947 and ended in 1958. Beckett had met the couple when all three were evading the Gestapo in Nazi-occupied France during the second World War.

Subjects include Beckett’s theatrical career, notably the first production of Waiting for Godot in Paris in 1952, and also accounts of his family in Ireland.

Bidding at the auction opened at £50,000 and the hammer came down at £120,000. However the unnamed buyer paid £146,500 (€180,781) when commission was added. It is understood the vendor was a private Irish collector.

Following the auction, Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s specialist in books and manuscripts, said the collection was “a veritable treasure trove for any Beckett enthusiast” and provided “insights into Beckett’s theatrical career, private life and innermost thoughts over nearly four decades”.

Last year, also at Sotheby’s in London, a set of six “exercise books” containing the handwritten manuscript of Beckett’s first novel Murphy, was sold for £962,500 (€1,143,000) to the University of Reading in the south of England. Later in the auction, a copy of Dubliners by James Joyce was sold for £37,500 (€46,275). The first edition copy of the short stories was published in Dublin 100 years ago – in 1914. Joyce inscribed the book to Jacob Schwarz – a famous misspelling, as the recipient was Jacob Schwartz, proprietor of the Ulysses Bookshop in London. Joyce frequently dropped the “t” from his name.

Sotheby’s said it was “one of only three inscribed copies of Joyce’s short story collection offered for sale at auction in the last 40 years”. In 2012, a copy sold for £105,000 at Sotheby’s in London, and in 2002, a copy (preserved in a dust-jacket) sold in Christie’s New York for $230,000.