Book People | July 2022 | Nate Pedersen

World’s Most Famous Literary Spade Owned by Both Ray Bradbury and George Bernard Shaw

Courtesy of Nate D. Sanders

A garden spade owned by both George Bernard Shaw and Ray Bradbury is currently up for auction from Nate D. Sanders. The online auction, which includes many other lots from Ray Bradbury's personal art and book collections, concludes today at 5 p.m. PST. At the time of this writing, bidding on the spade is at $5,000.

Shaw used the spade to plant a mulberry tree in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, on his 80th birthday in July of 1936. Shaw then gave the spade to his friend and gardener Harry Higgs. From there, the spade eventually made its way into the hands of Ray Bradbury, who received it as a Christmas present. 

Bradbury, who died in 2012, was an avid fan of George Bernard Shaw, considering him "the greatest playwright of our century." Bradbury, like many collectors, was inspired by owning an object that was used by one of his literary idols. Bradbury even wrote an unpublished poem about the spade, entitled G. B. S. & the Spade which is included in the same lot at auction. An excerpt of the lengthy poem follows:

I hold the dear spade in my hands,
Its vibrant lightnings strike and move along my arms, 
The ghost of Shaw climbs up through me
I feel a fiery brambling of chin 
I feel my spine 
Stand straight as if a lightning bolt had struck 
His old voice whispers in my ear, dear boy 
Find Troy, go on, dig deep, find Troy, find Troy!

From one of the greatest playwrights to one of the greatest science fiction writers, this simple garden tool has a stunning literary provenance. The next owner of the spade will have a lot to live up to.

Update: The spade plus the unpublished poem inspired by it sold together for $6,250.