In 2006, someone paid £18,000 for the catalogue from the auction of Oscar Wilde’s belongings in 1895. Not £18,000 for one of Wilde’s books – £18,000 just for a list of the books he owned. Christie’s description of Lot 155, Sale 7275 gives you some idea of the wonders of Wilde’s personal library and Lucasta Miller’s article in The Guardian conjures up the anticipation the catalogue created when it was offered at Sotheby’s in 2004.
On 24 April 1895, Wilde’s library, along with all the Wilde family’s possessions, was auctioned off to pay his creditors, in particular the Marquess of Queensberry, who was determined to see Wilde thrown in prison and stripped of all his dignity. During the auction, many of Wilde’s belongings, including manuscripts, were stolen by looters; not all have been located by scholars. At the time, Wilde was awaiting trial. The loss of his books was a terrible blow.
I will carry on looking for a 1971 facsimile of the catalogue to help me recreate Oscar Wilde’s library online, as an original is just a tad beyond my means.
© JD Ellevsen