One of the joys of Bibliophiles events is the coming together of newer book collectors with people who have been collecting for years. Thanks to Chris and Jenni (both expert curators in their day jobs, and fledgling book collectors outside work) for capturing that spirit in their blog post (which they sent in a timely fashion but I am only now free enough from work commitments to post – sorry). – Anne Welsh, UoL Bibliophiles Secretary.
On 31st May 2019, Michael Seeney welcomed the Bibliophiles Society into his home to view his spectacular collection of all things Oscar Wilde. After a run-down of the house rules over a glass of wine (no food or drink to leave the kitchen) we left the kitchen to begin our tour.
We soon discovered that Michael’s collection was not just focused on Oscar Wilde – every wall was covered with art of the 1890s, from watercolours to ceramics, including many lithographs by Rothenstein. Some of the paintings were more than they seemed, as we discovered when Michael turned them around to reveal sketches on the back. Every surface was covered by statues and objets d’art that complimented the ambiance of the setting. These helped root us in the aesthetics of the period.
Deeper into the house, we ventured past a pseudo-iconographic painting of the great man himself, before reaching the dizzying heights of the main collection. In a room lined more with bookshelves than wallpaper lay the heart of Michael’s collection: first or other important editions of Oscar Wilde’s books, such as a 7th edition copy of The Ballard of Reading Gaol (the first to feature Wilde’s name as author rather than the pseudonym C33), signed copies, personal letters, and books owned by Wilde’s family and friends.
As much as we could go on about this part of the archive, there was another group of trinkets that caught all our eyes – the accompanying collection of unorthodox ephemera. There were stuffed toys, a myriad of thimbles, playing cards, and beer mats, jewellery, and even enormous tube posters advertising Wilde’s plays.
The evening ended with more wine and in-depth conversation ranging from the development of private collections to the quality of Michael’s self-made book jackets. In reflection, this evening enlightened us to the opportunities available to new and established collectors. Michael’s descriptions of trawling through auction houses and websites to find unacknowledged parts of Wilde’s archive demonstrated the possibilities for collecting even in areas which are this popular and highly sought after. We would advise everyone to take a leaf out of Michael’s book (not literally) and invest some time in rummaging through the miscellanea. This evening was a great success and enjoyed by all.
Jennifer White and Chris Hughes
Images: Kayleigh Betterton (from her visit to Michael’s last year) and Anne Welsh (showing the best “party favours” ever – Michael had kindly gathered together some books that had been in auction lots alongside books he wanted, and offered them to us newer collectors. This little bundle is ideal for teaching various elements of Historical Bibliography, and all the Bibliophiles found similar treasure – thanks, Michael).