World’s biggest private Samuel Beckett collection up for grabs

A MYSTERY millionaire is set to buy the world’s largest private collection of work by Samuel Beckett.

The Dublin-based collector is negotiating to snap up the collection of 800 items – much of them personally signed by the notoriously reclusive Irish playwright behind plays such as Waiting for Godot.

The Irish National Library were initially offered first-refusal to buy the collection three weeks ago but have so far failed to come up with £250,000 asking price. It is one of the last of a series of collections sold on behalf of relatives of an eccentric and obsessive Dublin-born book dealer and collector who left more than 20,000 books and manuscripts – worth a staggering £2 million – in his will when he died nearly four years ago.

The 83-year-old’s dying wish was that his Irish collections of books and manuscripts – which also included works by WB Yeats, James Joyce and Seamus Heaney – be housed in Ireland after his death. But without an offer from The Irish National Library or other state body, this extraordinary Beckett collection will remain in private hands either here or abroad.

The London firm handling the sale has already received interest from collectors around the world. Joe McCann, of Maggs Rare Books, said: “It would be a terrible shame if somebody didn’t buy this collection for the benefit of the Irish nation, especially with this being Beckett’s centennial year.”

The Alan Clodd Beckett collection includes a virtually brand new first edition of the playwright’s first novel, Murphy – in its original dust jacket. Published in 1938, it sold just 138 copies in its first two years and most of the initial 2-3,000 print run were destroyed in a World War II warehouse bomb.

Obsessed with privacy, Beckett – who was born in April 1906 – rarely appeared in public and was always very reluctant to sign his name on anything. Yet Dubliner Alan Clodd, who became a London book dealer in the 1960s, became friends with him and managed to persuade him to sign about 200 items in the collection that is now for sale.

One of the manuscripts – for the play Words and Music – also contains some of Beckett’s famous doodles. As well as numerous signed limited editions, it contains virtually all of Beckett’s works in their first edition form, alongside original manuscripts, proof copies and galley proofs. It also includes books and periodicals with contributions by Beckett and a range of other original Beckett-related material such as theatrical programmes, posters, photographs, postcards and production scripts.

Highlights in the collection include multiple versions of Waiting for Godot, including one of only 30 signed copies of the French first edition and copies of all three issues of Beckett’s North – which was published by Clodd’s own private press, The Enitharmon Press – as well as galley proofs, Beckett’s original manuscript and his corrected typescript.

McCann said: “Agents representing an individual in Ireland have been in touch. We don’t know who it is but they are very keen to get their hands on the collection, as are a number of other wealthy private individuals.

“We have an obligation to Mr Clodd’s family to get the best possible price. It was felt that he would want an organisation like the Irish National Library to get the books but we have to appreciate any financial constraints on their own budget. We have been in talks with them but have not yet received a firm offer.”

Collette O’Flaherty, a spokeswoman for the library which bought Clodd’s James Joyce collection about two years ago, said: “We have no comment to make whatsoever about this collection.” She added: “You can read into that whatever you like.”

Like Beckett, Clodd was born in Dublin, where his mother’s family ran a shop in Blackrock, not far from the Beckett family home at Foxrock. The son of a rubber broker, the family settled in the UK in the 1920s.

After school, he worked for insurance firm Scottish Widows and although a conscientious objector during World War II, he served in an ambulance unit in Egypt and Italy. On his return to London, he began collecting books and worked for five years as a librarian at the London Library before taking a variety of clerical jobs – including one with a luxury car export firm.

He became a book dealer and private publisher in the 1960s, gradually amassing collections of books by the likes of Evelyn Waugh, Joyce, Yeats, TS Elliott and Harold Pinter.

Famed for having an almost encyclopedic knowledge of literature as well as an uncanny ability to not only spot a good bargain but also literary talent, he became a respected and familiar figure around bookshops, auction houses and book fairs. Up till his death aged 83, he could be seen regularly walking along Charing Cross road’s bookshop district in his chequered overcoat and a clutch of books under his arm. ENDS

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