The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum' - DW's Library
Although wine, women and song were important to DW (well, not song - DW was not in the least bit musical), collecting was a very important part of his life - and, although he collected other things (wine, stamps, Napoleonic figurines, coins ... the list is almost endless), his abiding passion was for collecting books.
To his father's disapproval, DW had been introduced to the joys of reading pulp adventure fiction early in life, and he soon became a devotee of authors such as Dumas (his particular favourite, and inspiration for many of his characters and books) and Conan Doyle (especially the Brigadier Gerard stories), and the adventures of their heroes formed the basis of his early storytelling in school dormitories long before it became his professional way of life. DW's book collecting began early too - he seems to have started to collect cheap editions of Dumas before he was ten.
This sort of fare was to be very far from the extent of his reading, and he always gave credit for the widening of his literary horizons to his disreputable mentor from World War One, Gordon Eric Gordon-Tombe [see Room Three].
Not only did Gordon-Tombe introduce DW to his favourite Irish author, Oscar Wilde, but to the likes of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Stendhal and Proust – and also to the joys of reading non-fiction; history (especially Napoleonic) and travel / world culture being particular favourites of DW’s.
By his mid-twenties, DW was not only very well read, but his collecting was bringing him to the attention of serious book dealers and of the authors themselves. While in his mid-twenties and an up-and-coming wine merchant, DW entered into correspondence with his then favourite authors, such as Aldous Huxley. Huxley accepted an invitation to dinner at the young wine merchant's house in Bayswater and enjoyed it - DW was always a good host.
By the mid-1920s, DW's collection of Huxley was so comprehensive that it formed the basis of a published bibliography of the author’s works; and not only were DWs collections unusual for their comprehensiveness, but they were also unusual for their day in that whenever possible he got the books he enjoyed inscribed by the authors.
Although there was clearly 'thinning out' from time to time (and particularly, perhaps, when DW 'downsized' and he sold his small mansion ‘Grove Place’ in Hampshire in 1968), at one stage DW's Library held in excess of four thousand volumes, and when his Library was sold by Blackwell’s in 1979, their sale catalogue contained 2,274 separate items, a number of which were multi-volume sets.
DWs collection is now (sadly) dispersed around the globe, but books from his collection are instantly recognisable from his distinctive Papé bookplate.
In addition to the Papé bookplate, a few of his books contain an earlier bookplate which, among other things, gave DW's opinion of that particular book; and at some stage late in his life DW went through his entire Library making handwritten notes in the front of the volumes which he had used as source material for his own writing. Some of the books therefore contain a wealth of fascinating insights about the author himself.
The discernment and discrimination of DWs collecting is well exemplified by the fact that when any of the choicest items come up for auction these days, they fetch huge sums; far in excess of what DW paid for them, even adjusted for inflation.
If you are lucky enough to own any of them, treasure them ... and if you are fortunate enough to own any of the most eye-catching items, please let me have details so I can add them to the exhibits in this section of the 'Museum' in due course.
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