The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum' - DW's Library
Dennis Wheatley's Library - the Collection is split
DW died in November 1977, and the bulk of his Library (ex his copy of Ulysses) was sold to prestigious booksellers Blackwell’s of Oxford. Such was the extent of his Library that they devoted an entire catalogue to it.
The catalogue – which is itself a collectors’ item these days - was just under 200 pages long, and listed some 2,274 items; many of them multi-volume sets. In case you have a copy of the catalogue and ever get confused browsing through it, do not doubt your sanity. The letter ‘E’ does indeed appear after the letter ‘F’.
The catalogue is interesting not only for what it contains, but also for what it does not contain. For example, neither the May 1964 catalogue nor the Blackwell’s catalogue contains any Ian Fleming. This is curious since they knew each other in the Second World War, and since DW describes Fleming (and he also knew Fleming’s brother Peter) as a friend.
For those interested in such things, the top priced items in the catalogue were as follows :
The aggregate value of the books in the catalogue was in the region of £59,000. Fashions were changing however, and many of the items were significantly under-priced.
As Nigel Burwood of ‘Any Amount of Books’ has put it :
‘The venerable company did not quite 'get' modern first editions at the time and there were many bargains.’
One person in particular is known to have taken spectacular advantage of this. Chris Radmall, one of the champions of the jacket from his shop in Covent Garden, 'Bell, Book and Radmall', happened to be in Oxford for his birthday shortly after the catalogue was issued (in those days of course, there was no internet, and you ordered books from the catalogue by ‘phone or by letter, or you went round to the bookseller in person). He rushed in and bought one hundred and eighty volumes in ‘stunning condition’, and made such a huge profit that the episode has been known in book dealing circles ever since as ‘Radmall’s Coup’.
Another person who did well was Rick Gekoski of the Guardian, who years after the event still recalled with pleasure going into Blackwell’s and snapping up one of the only known copies of D. H. Lawrence's 'Sons and Lovers' in its original dust jacket, for £350.
Some other books did not fare so well, and I understand that some ended up on racks outside the shop on offer for paltry sums.
The passage of time changes things, and even those books which are not in fashion now are lifted by the presence of the distinctive Papé bookplate.
If you are fortunate enough to have one of the books from DW’s Library, treasure it. It has an interesting history.
References : There are two really superb online articles about DW’s Library by Any Amount of Books’s Nigel Burwood.
Phil Baker advises me that Radmall’s Coup is also mentioned in ‘The Tatler’, December 1983, in an article on the rare book trade by Martin Cropper - 'The Books That Cyril Connolly Would Have Stolen If He Had Come To Dinner'.