Auctions | February 23, 2015

“Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” Signed by T.S. Eliot for Sale at Bonhams


A first edition of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats signed by its author, T.S. Eliot, as a gift to the eight-year old daughter of his friend, the Scottish writer George Blake, is to be sold at Bonhams Fine Books, Manuscripts, Atlases and Historical Photographs sale in London on 18 March. It is estimated at £6,000-8,000.  2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Eliot (1888-1965) became friends with George Blake (1893-1961) in 1930, the year he was appointed Director of Faber and Faber. In August 1942, Blake invited Eliot to visit him at the family home at East Devon Lodge, Dollar, Clackmannanshire. Blake’s daughter Sally, on whose behalf the book is being sold, recalled the excitement and nervous apprehension in the household as the day of the visit approached. Eliot brought a gift for Sally; a first edition of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats which he signed ‘for Sally Blake from Tom Possum’.

As a special treat he read to her, but instead of choosing one of his poems, he selected stories from Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris. The treat, however, did not go entirely to plan. The deep Southern drawl Eliot put on for the reading so frightened Sally that she burst into tears though the great poet was enjoying himself so much he did not appear to notice. 

Bonhams Book Department specialist, Simon Roberts said, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a much loved classic of children’s literature and first editions in the original dust jackets are eagerly sought after. This copy has the bonus of a charming and typically humorous message from the poet himself.”