Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 21 (1990)
During the last decade Antique and Collectors' Fairs have flourished in Britain and are a very popular way for many of the population to spend a pleasant afternoon browsing amongst the items for sale. Forty years ago, when I began collecting - in a very modest way - antique shops were way out of my bracket and it was in junk shops that I picked up what I now regard as bargains. In those days few people seemed to be collecting pretty pieces of china or old pieces of brass and the prices were low. Junk shops, particularly in the poorer parts of towns, proliferated and, although they were clearly in the market with second-hand furniture for those setting up home not long after the second World War, there was always the odd shelf at the back of the shop with the pretty china and ornaments and brassware I craved, after so many years of austerity. All of these items were within reach of a pocket without too much money in it - unlike today, when frequently 'junk' is sold at something like 'antique' prices.
How any collector's mouth would water if shown a sale catalogue, a copy of which came into my possession some years ago. And how they would positively drool over the contents and prices, particularly if they were George Eliot devotees. For the catalogue contains:
CONTENTS OF THE RESIDENCE
the Library of about 1200 Vols of Books
being Portions of the Libraries of George
Eliot and G.H. Lewes
Silver and plated articles, Water-colour
drawings and miscellanies
By Direction of the Executors of the Will
of Gertrude, widow of Charles Lee Lewes,
being part of the Property of George Eliot,
bequeathed by her to Mr. Lewes, also a
Portion of the Library of his father,
George Henry Lewes.
The sale was held at Gertrude's home, 14, Sussex Gardens, Hyde Park, on Tuesday 15th May 1923. Whoever had bought my copy of the Sale Catalogue had been helpful enough to record the prices paid for many of the items at the auction and one's feelings on reading these are a mixture of envy for those who got so much for so little, and sadness that the possessions of George Eliot were so little valued at that time. For the prices, even by 1923 standards, now seem ridiculously and pathetically low. These prices I have changed into their decimal equivalent for ease of comparison with late 20th century values. George Eliot's own copy of Jubal was sold for £1.10, as was her copy of Young's Night Thoughts with pencilled notes in her own hand. Three of Barbara Bodichon' s paintings (George Eliot's) went for £ 1.28 for the set, six by Octavia Hill for 9Op. A pair of brass candlesticks (and all of the items mentioned from now on belonged to George Eliot) 55p; a copper bed warmer 65p; a brass-mounted tea caddy was added to a leather papeterie case and a marble ewer and stand to make a lot which fetched 45p. An engraved glass claret jug together with a set of three engraved spirit decanters and six other pieces fetched 55p. 15p purchased a bamboo hanging etegere and a plaster corner bracket, but if you could stretch to £1.10 you could become the proud owner of a pair of French bronze vases and covers with female figure surmounts, together with another smaller one. A plaster female bust, another of a Roman lady and three others could be had for 30p.