Chester Beatty and Collecting Medieval Manuscripts During the First World War
Dr. Laura Cleaver, University of London.
Chester Beatty may have bought his first medieval manuscripts in 1914. By this time, he was living in London with his second wife, Edith. The start of the First World War brought a halt to auctions and spending money on luxury items was presented as inappropriate. Yet in April 1915 Christie’s staged a sale in aid of the Red Cross, which included three medieval manuscripts. In December that year Beatty met Sydney Cockerell, director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, and, perhaps inspired by Cockerell, bought two manuscripts at Sotheby’s. Beatty bought two more manuscripts at the Red Cross sale held the following year. After that the book-trade began to recover, with major sales in 1917 and 1918 laying the foundations for a post-war boom. However, in 1917, as America joined the war, Beatty went on a round-the-world tour, bringing back items from China and Japan. This talk will tell the story of Beatty’s collecting during the Great War to explore how a newcomer to manuscript collecting responded to the disrupted market in a global conflict.
Dr. Laura Cleaver is Senior Lecturer in Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is also the Principal Investigator of the Cultivate MSS project, funded by the European Research Council, which examines the trade in medieval manuscripts between c. 1900 and 1945. This project grew out of research into Chester Beatty’s collection of European manuscripts.