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Arts

Dickens' Great Expectations desk fetches $850,000

LONDON (Reuters) - The desk where Charles Dickens wrote “Great Expectations” and his final correspondence hours before his death fetched 433,250 pounds ($850,000) at auction on Wednesday, around seven times its pre-sale estimate.

The desk where Charles Dickens wrote "Great Expectations" is seen in a handout photo from Christie's auction house. REUTERS/Christie's/Handout

The Irish entrepreneur who bought the furniture called the price “a bargain” for such a piece of literary history.

“It’s a part of Charles Dickens, so I’m delighted to be its owner,” Tom Higgins told Reuters by telephone after the sale.

“I’ve been a huge Dickens fan for a long time. I actually think it’s worth a lot more than what I paid for it and expected it could have gone for as much as five million (pounds).

“I think it’s a bargain, really,” added Higgins, 49, who plans to be Ireland’s first space tourist.

He added that the fact that proceeds from the sale were going to Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London made it easier to part with the cash.

Christie’s sold the furniture as part of its valuable books and manuscripts sale in London, and the price includes the buyer’s premium.

“ASTONISHING AMOUNT”

The writing desk and chair from the study of Dickens’ Gad’s Hill residence near Rochester, Kent, was passed on by descent to Christopher Charles Dickens and his wife Jeanne-Marie Dickens.

She then donated them to Great Ormond Street, with which Dickens had a close association.

“We are very grateful to Jeanne-Marie Dickens for this hugely generous gift to the hospital,” Tim Johnson, executive director at Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, said in a statement.

“Charles Dickens was not only a formidable champion for Great Ormond Street Hospital but also a tireless fundraiser. We are also thankful to the new owner who won the bidding battle ... It is an astonishing amount.”

Dickens was an early patron of Great Ormond Street, and was a friend of its founder Charles West. The hospital also benefited from the support of other famous British authors including Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie and Oscar Wilde.

According to Christie’s, Dickens wrote “Great Expectations” and a number of other late novels and short stories at the mahogany writing desk.

The auctioneer quotes the memoirs of Dickens’ eldest daughter Mamie Dickens saying that on the evening of June 8, 1870, Dickens wrote letters “and arranged some trifling business matters” in the library where the desk stood.

He went for dinner and collapsed after suffering a stroke, and died the following day aged 58.

In the same sale, Christie’s sold the typescript copy of the first half of Winston Churchill’s famous speech to parliament in 1940 about the war situation during the Battle of Britain for 139,250 pounds, in line with expectations.

The manuscript includes amendments in Churchill’s own hand.

A first folio of William Shakespeare’s plays, one of around 200 copies known to exist to this day, fetched 445,250 pounds, compared with a 300-400,000 pound pre-sale estimate.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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