Given the significance of the Charlie Watts: Gentleman, Collector, Rolling Stone auction, I asked Mark Wiltshire, the specialist at Christie's Auctions handling the collection, some questions about Agatha Christie, Mr. Watts' collection and the state of the market.
CC: Do you have any insights as to what drew Charlie Watts to collect Agatha Christie specifically, given his broad range of collectibles in both literature and music?
Mark: As a collector, Charlie Watts’s interests were incredibly wide-ranging. He said himself that he collected ‘everything’, but having catalogued his library it is clear to me that everything he collected was quality. His collection of modern first editions has some extraordinary highlights – a presentation copy of The Great Gatsby, for instance – but at its centre are titles from the Golden Age of detective fiction. Naturally, Agatha Christie plays a very important role in the collection; she is represented by about 85 volumes in all, to be offered across Parts I and II of Charlie Watts: Gentleman, Collector, Rolling Stone.
CC: It can be argued that Agatha Christie is one of a handful of 'blue chip' collectible modern authors. While many authors may have a single title that became highly collectible, there are fewer modern authors who are broadly collectible - Christie and Fleming coming to the top of my mind. Assuming you agree with the moniker, what do you think makes Christie's first editions 'blue chip' collectibles?
Mark: I do agree that Christie belongs to that group. I would expand it to include the likes of Virginia Woolf, J.R.R. Tolkien, F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.K. Rowling, and in doing so perhaps I answer your question. These are all authors whose place in the popular imagination is vivid and unshakeable – their names command attention and evoke a distinct feeling in readers and collectors around the world. In the case of Agatha Christie, her broad collectability is even more impressive given just how many titles she published.
CC: Are there any particular highlights or items that really gave you a 'wow' moment when you were cataloging the collection?
Mark: Several, in fact. The superb copy of The Thirteen Problems is such a delight in the dust-jacket and wraparound band, as is the very fine copy of The Mysterious Mr Quin. Then there are the presentation copies to important figures in her life and career, such as her close friend and secretary Charlotte ‘Carlo’ Fisher, her daughter Rosalind, and even P. G. Wodehouse. More widely in the realm of detective fiction, there were ‘wow’ moments in cataloguing presentation copies of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles.
CC: Could you make a few comments on valuations - given how rarely some of these titles show for sale in jacketed copies and given how unique the inscriptions are. Collectors are often challenged on how to assess fair value and in the larger Agatha Christie auctions over the last few years at Sothebys and Heritage it's clearly proving hard for the specialists to create estimates as well.
Mark: Valuation is certainly more of an art than a science when it comes to special or unique copies like these. We’re led by data such as recent auction results (for which collectingchristie.com proved an invaluable resource), but there is also a very human element to valuation in which we must weigh up the relative strengths of different presentation inscriptions or the condition of dust-jackets. Although the books in this collection come from such an iconic library, your readers will note that the estimates themselves do not factor in the provenance.
CC: How you have seen the demand for Christie change over the years and how you expect it to change in the future?
Mark: Easy access to auction catalogues and bookseller listings around the globe has meant that collectors now have a clearer picture of their chosen field than ever. For Christie, this has confirmed the true rarity of certain titles, or the difficulty of obtaining copies of certain titles in dust-jackets, and we have seen the prices for such special copies rise accordingly. While it’s impossible to talk definitively about the future, I would be confident that the name Agatha Christie and the names Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple will continue to endure and retain a special place in the minds of readers.
CC: How does Christie's Auctions source the information it needs to catalogue the Agatha Christie collection?
Mark: In the absence of a comprehensive Agatha Christie printed bibliography, collectingchristie.com has been exceedingly helpful during the cataloguing process. The attention paid to issue points and questions of chronology is particularly useful, while of course the close monitoring of the marketplace has provided a better overview of current prices than is available anywhere else.
CC: Any closing thoughts / comments?
Mark: I encourage those within easy reach of London to visit the public exhibition of this collection from 20-27 September. It is, as always, free to enter and this is a superb chance to see some rarities of Christie’s bibliography. Otherwise, your readers can get me in touch with me directly at email@example.com and I’ll be delighted to send detailed imagery and cataloguing. If you are interested in acquiring a printed catalogue of the collection, click here: https://store.christies.com/product/charlie-watts-gentleman-collector-rolling-stone
I want to thank Mark for taking the time to share his insights into this wonderful auction and to offer up the ability to connect with him directly for details and images. My complete review of Part I (the live auction) can be read on our website or by clicking this link. The review of Part II will be posted very soon. If you haven't yet subscribed to my website, please do. Those who subscribe will receive an email everytime an article is posted and will have the ability to comment on them. To subscribe click here.
Lastly, I look forward to presenting at the International Agatha Christie Festival in just a few weeks. My presention "Agatha Christie on Stage: From Playscripts to Programmes" will be held at 3pm on Friday 15th September. Attendees will receive a complimentary Agatha Christie playscript while supplies last - I have approximately 100 available so we should be fine! They are courtesy of Samuel French publishing. For more information on my event, how to book tickets, or the full festival agenda click here.