February 2016 | Rebecca Rego Barry

The Duchess of Devonshire's Rare Books at Auction

On March 2, Sotheby's London will auction a rather extraordinary collection--that of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the legendary (and literary) Mitford sisters. The selection consists of the contents of her final home, the Old Vicarage at Edensor on the Chatsworth estate. She died in 2014 at the age of 94.




Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 10.12.10 AM.pngFrom fine and decorative art (much of it animal-themed) to sets of silver spoons to diamond brooches, the auction lots are, perhaps, predictable. And yet, there are some wonderful surprises, such as Debo's collection of Elvis ephemera. For followers of this blog, it is the Duchess of Devonshire's library that attracts attention. There are books inscribed by members of the Kennedy family, with whom she was friendly, even one book inscribed by Madonna to the duchess. Her collection included British mainstays--Fleming, Wodehouse, Woolf--as well as books on cookery, gardens, royalty. The crown jewel, however, is an inscribed, pre-publication copy of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisitied, one of fifty that the author presented to his friends in 1944 (pictured here). The estimate for which is £15,000-20,000 ($22,000-30,000). Several Waugh titles follow in the auction; as the duchess observed many years later in her memoir, Wait for Me! (2010), "In spite of his uncertain ways, Evelyn remained a friend and a generous one. He sent us the limited edition of Brideshead Revisted in its floppy dark blue cover...and he sent me his other books as they were published, inscribed in friendly terms."


Image via Sotheby's.