For Sale: Charles Dickens’ Liquor Inventory Manuscript

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Charles Dickens was no teetotaler, as this 1870 manuscript record of his spirits cellar makes clear. In fact, he clearly enjoyed sherry, brandy, rum, and whisky, all of which he accounted for in his slim “Gad’s Hill Cellar Casks” notebook, which heads to auction at Sotheby’s in London later this month. Nor is it the only such boozy checklist he kept — another, from 1865, is currently on loan at the Dickens House Museum in London. As the auctioneer dryly notes, “[I]n the intervening years Dickens appears to have switched from gin to whisky.”

Gads Hill Place was Dickens’ home in Higham, Kent. This inventory of the home’s cellar, in the author’s own hand, only covers May-June, 1870. It was written just days before his death on June 9 of that year.

Running to four pages, this manuscript forms a small part of an amazing Charles Dickens collection that includes more than 200 first editions, inscribed/presentation copies, original serial parts, and Dickens ephemera — there’s even the famous author’s annotated ‘prompt’ or public reading copy of Mrs. Gamp (1868), presented on the final night of his American book tour to his Boston publisher, H.M. Ticknor. The 84-year-old collector, Lawrence Drizen, writes in the auction catalogue that after “55 years of vigorous collecting,” it is time to disperse his prized possessions to other collectors. “The sale will be a very sad occasion for me.”

The “Gad’s Hill Cellar Casks” notebook was last seen at auction ten years ago at Christie’s in London, where it made £5,000 ($8,181), roughly as much as it is expected to raise this time around.