Agatha Chritie auction

Reply Wed 13 Sep, 2006 02:32 am
And then there were none: bidders snap up novelist's possessions

Prices far outstrip estimates as dealers and fans buy items from holiday home

John Ezard
Wednesday September 13, 2006
The Guardian

Agatha Christie reigns from beyond the grave as the queen of crime, bookshops and public libraries - and now, unexpectedly, as a dame of the auction room. A sale of personal items from one of her favourite homes, in the heartland of her upbringing and from the era of her early novels and ill-starred first marriage outstripped all estimates last night, ultimately raising more than £300,000.

More than 700 items intimately associated with Christie's life at her holiday home of Greenway House, Churston Ferrers, in Devon, were sold at the event at Bearne's in Exeter, with some lots fetching prices two to three times higher than expected. Some items from the crime writer's silver collection did even better than that.

A Charles II tumbler cup catalogued at £400 to £600 went for £6,000. A similar mug went for £5,400. A Charles II tazza (embossed plate), forecast to fetch £300 to £500, went under the hammer for £3,100.
Yesterday was shrewdly chosen to bring Christie memorabilia to the market. It was held during the second Christie Week in south Devon, billed as "a national celebration to mark her birthday and recognise her legacy". Agatha Christie grew up in Torquay, and several locations in the area inspired her novels.

Chilling work

The author, who died in 1976, was remembered at the Little Theatre, Torquay, by a revival of her second most famous play after the record-breaking Mousetrap: a chilling work which, having migrated through politically incorrect titles referring to 10 little niggers and 10 little indians, has finally ended up with the name And Then There Were None.

A 1920s tea dance is being held in the ballroom at Oldway Mansion in Paignton tonight. And on Saturday a murder mystery ball is to be held at the Grand Hotel, Torquay, where she spent her first wedding night in 1914 with Colonel Archibald Christie.

The author loved Christie passionately but, as events proved, one-sidedly. His unfaithfulness provoked her notorious, widely-reported disappearance.

Her discovery at the Harrogate Hydropathic Hotel, under an assumed name and claiming to be her husband's sister, inspired the film Agatha, with Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman, and gave the writer a lifelong interest in convoluted events in hotels. All these associations helped entice an unexpected 1,000 people into the auction room. But not all the prices were explained by the momentum of Christie Week.

"There are also an awful lot of silver dealers in the room," Dick Woods, a spokesman for Bearne's said yesterday. "They have really flocked here."

Not only Christie but her daughter, Rosalind, and her grandson were keen collectors of silver. "The house was almost full of it," Mr Woods said.

Among the other silver items sold yesterday were a William and Mary silver basting spoon for £3,000 (estimate £1,500); and a George III argyle (gravy pot) for £2,100 (estimate £400-£600).

The most valuable of all the lots was a large Hispano-Flemish cabinet which sold for £13,000. Other valuable lots included an Irish monteith (£9,500), and The Fruit Pickers, a painting by Leon Underwood, which sold for £8,800. Businessman Rex Rozario bought two vases in the sale for £385 and said it was because he wanted something unique for his home. "I have read quite a few of her books and now I can say I have something that was from Agatha Christie's house," he said.

The presence of the dealers - some of whom did buy for sentimental reasons - hinted that "the Christie factor" will lure a collecting public far beyond south Devon and all over the world into paying premium rates for a memento from one of her houses.

Treasure trove

The auction room could not count on this in advance. Christie's books have sold more than 1bn copies in English and 1bn in more than 45 foreign languages. It is claimed she is outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. In public libraries she is still the eighth most borrowed of all authors.

But few of those books sold can have fetched the prices reached yesterday. One buyer paid £2,400 for Death on the Nile, while Murder In Mesopotamia went for £1,600. Her 1945 novel Death Comes as the End - signed "AP, from Agatha" - sold for the same figure, and A Pocket Full of Rye went for £1,250 (estimate £300 to £500).

Bearne's director Daniel Goddard said before the sale that it had been very difficult to value the lots. By early evening - when her books began to come under the hammer - the atmosphere in the sale room was electric.

The National Trust welcomed result after result with delight; it will receive half the proceeds to help it open a restored Greenway House to the public in 2008.

Despite the hundreds of lots, only 10% of Christie's collection went into the auction. The remaining 90% will form an admirer's treasure trove at Greenway House.

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Walter Hinteler
Reply Wed 13 Sep, 2006 02:38 am


source: The Guardian, today's print version, page 15
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