Last month there was some excitement in the news about a revealing and unpublished letter by Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) which was coming up for sale at an auction in London. Writing from his rooms in Christ Church in 1891 Dodgson complains to a friend about how much he dislikes the fame that the Alice books have brought him, and how he wishes to avoid being identified as ‘Lewis Carroll’ -so much so that ‘sometimes I almost wish I had never written any books at all’.
Given the local connection we’re always interested to buy Lewis Carroll material, but we had a feeling this letter would attract too much interest for us to simply buy it for stock. On the other hand, if we could interest a specific customer in advance, then we’d be able to pursue the letter on their behalf.
After some discussion over the weeks preceding the sale – culminating in a series of last-minute trans-oceanic telephone calls – we’d found a potential buyer and were ready to bid. We had our own expectation about how much the letter might fetch, but on the day, in the sale, it’s anybody’s guess.
Happily, we emerged triumphant, seeing off interest from the phones and internet as well as other bidders in the room. Reports of the sale, however, only said that the letter ‘was bought by an anonymous British buyer who was present in the room during the bidding’, and we had to keep the entire thing top secret until this past weekend, at our customer’s request. On April 17th – with DHL delivering the letter just in time – the University of Southern California revealed all at an evening extravaganza to celebrate the 10th annual Wonderland Award, a prize for art inspired by Lewis Carroll.
It turns out that the acquisition of the letter for their Lewis Carroll collection was planned as a surprise for the donors who had started the collection and award, to make the 10th anniversary of the award even more special – hence all the secrecy. But, after the presentation was complete and the surprise unveiled, it once again made the news, including the New York Times website
So we are at last free to reveal that, yes, Blackwell’s Rare Books was the ‘anonymous British buyer’
Now to find more important unpublished Lewis Carroll items so we can have something to display on Alice’s Day…
Enjoy this slideshow of the arrival of the letter at its new home: