LONDON — Christie’s sale titled Charlie Watts: Gentleman, Collector, Rolling Stone brought to auction one of the finest collections of modern first editions to appear in a generation.
The two-part sale was offered in a live auction at King Street on September 28 and an online edition that closed the following day. The combination of the quality of the books and perhaps a little stardust resulted in 68 new auction records in part 1 alone. Complete results for Day 1 and Day 2 are available at LiveAuctioneers.
Watts was an avid reader and collector of many things, so it may be surprising to know that he started collecting books only in his sixties.
Nearly all the literature and much of the jazz collection was purchased from dealer Peter Harrington in London’s Chelsea section. 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 P. G. Wodehouse purchased for £100 ($120).
“The collecting grew from there and within nine months I had sold him a first edition of The Great Gatsby in a dustjacket.” Watts understood the importance of condition and was particularly attracted to inscribed copies.
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 £226,800, or $275,600 with buyer’s premium, just shy of its low estimate. It had last sold at Bonhams in New York in 2015 for $191,000 with buyer’s premium.
The following lot was another copy of The Great Gatsby, this time uninscribed but with a rare (slightly chipped) dust jacket that sold for £100,800, or $122,400 with buyer’s premium to the same room bidder.
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 £214,200, or $260,100 with buyer’s premium, 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 £32,760, or $39,700 with buyer’s premium.
Around 20% of the live sale total was realized 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 Charlotte ‘Carlo’ Fisher. She owned more than 80 books by Christie, nearly all of which had been inscribed and presented to her.
It was unfortunate that Fisher discarded the original dustjackets 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 earliest inscribed Christie in the sale was a first edition of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd from 1926, a book described as ‘the ultimate detective novel,’ of which no presentation copy had previously appeared at auction. This copy in a supplied dustjacket earned £56,700, or $68,800 with buyer’s premium – 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 features the first appearance of Miss Marple, realized a new auction record of £60,480, or $73,400 with buyer’s premium. This copy, though not inscribed, was offered in its exceptionally rare, if slightly sunned, dustjacket and Crime Club wrap-around band.
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. A pre-publication proof of Brideshead Revisited inscribed to Laycock for Bob, commander of the faithful set a record at £60,480, or $73,400 with buyer’s premium.
The result was that 95% of all lots sold during both parts for a total of just above £3 million hammer (£3.8 million, or $4.6 million including buyer’s premium), which was 143% of the total low estimate.