Price of Samuel Beckett’s letters plummets

Collection of letters that sold for €360,000 in 2006 could now sell for as little as €100,000

A series of 347 letters and postcards, the great majority autographed and signed “Sam”, were sent by Samuel Beckett to his close friends Henri and Josette Hayden. Photograph: Sotheby’s

A series of 347 letters and postcards, the great majority autographed and signed “Sam”, were sent by Samuel Beckett to his close friends Henri and Josette Hayden. Photograph: Sotheby’s

Tue, Jul 1, 2014, 07:26

Yet another cultural “trophy asset” from the Celtic Tiger has undergone a huge fall in value.

A collection of 347 letters and postcards written by playwright Samuel Beckett, which last changed hands for €360,000 in 2006, could now sell for as little as €100,000.

The correspondence, in French, was written by Beckett to his friends Henri and Josette Hayden, who were painters.

The letters are unpublished, although quotes from them were used by James Knowlson for his acclaimed 1996 biography, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett.

‘Extensive and important’

Sotheby’s has described the archive as “the most extensive and important series of letters by Beckett ever to be offered at auction”.

The letters were sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2006 for £243,200 – €360,000 at the time – and acquired by an unidentified “Irish private client”.

Eight years later, they have been consigned, again, to Sotheby’s and will go under the hammer in London on July 15th with an estimate of just £80,000 to £120,000 (€100,000 to €150,000).

Like property, prices for Irish art and collectibles have dropped sharply since the boom.

An original copy of the 1916 proclamation, which sold for €240,000 in 2007, recently went back to auction at Adam’s in Dublin and made just €90,000.

Sotheby’s said the letters and 100 postcards dated from 1947 to 1985. Beckett had met the Polish-born French painter Henri Hayden and his wife Josette during the second World War, while they were all taking refuge from the Gestapo in the village of Roussillon d’Apt in Nazi-occupied Vichy France. They remained lifelong friends.

“This correspondence is an invaluable account of Beckett’s theatrical career from the first production of Waiting for Godot in Paris in 1952,” said a catalogue note for the auction, adding that it also included “frequent references to members of Beckett’s family” and his visits in Dublin.

Mother’s declining health

One group of letters “of particular biographical significance are those that describe the declining health of his mother (who died in 1950 from Parkinson’s disease), evoking his exhaustion and sense of hopelessness during his last weeks with her in Ireland”.

Some of the letters refer to his fondness for whiskey.

Beckett, who was born in Dublin in 1906, spent much of his life in France, where he died in December 1989. He wrote drama and novels in English and French and is best known for the play Waiting for Godot. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

Last year, a hand-written draft of Beckett’s novel Murphy – in six school exercise books complete with doodles and multiple revisions – was sold for almost £1 million at Sotheby’s to the University of Reading.