Bright Young Collectors: Kayleigh Betterton

Our Bright Young Collectors series continues today with Kayleigh Betterton of Islington, England:

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Where are you from and where do you live now?

I grew up in a small town in rural Northamptonshire but moved to London six years ago to study English Literature at Queen Mary University; I currently live in Islington.

What did you study at University? What do you do now for an occupation?

At university I studied English Literature but whilst I was there I interned at Bloomsbury Auction house. This role involved working with first editions as a junior cataloguer and then authenticating and valuing these items ready for auction. It was during my time at Bloomsbury that I began to extend my book collection. However upon completion of my degree I left Bloomsbury to train as a secondary school English teacher and have now moved on to teach A-level English at a sixth form college in South London. Unable to leave Academia behind however, I’m also studying on the Victorian Studies MA course at Birkbeck College.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in?

My collection consists mostly of works by Oscar Wilde or books which are associated with the Aestheticism and Decadence movements. I tend to collect first editions, such as Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, however I’ve recently become interested in privately printed editions and have one of the limited copies of ‘The Portrait of Mr. W.H.’ which was a published in 1904, as well as a privately printed copy of ‘Vera; Or, The Nihilists’ from 1902. My latest desire is to collect the thirteen volumes of the quarterly periodical ‘The Yellow Book’, of which Beardsley was the Art Director. But so far I only have the two.

How many books are in your collection?

In terms of late Victorian works, I probably have in the region of 30 books now and yet I’m on to my fifth floor-to-ceiling bookcase of modern texts. I’m dreading the day when I have to move out of my third-floor flat and carry them all down two flights of stairs!

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

The first book I bought for my collection was purchased unintentionally. It was the first edition of ‘De Profundis’; Wilde’s letter, written during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol, to Lord Alfred Douglas. I was on the lookout for ‘Dorian Gray’ and had been scouring Auction House catalogues for the novel but kept getting distracted by other books in the meantime. Walking through the auction room at Bloomsbury one day, I saw ‘De Profundis’ come up for sale and on a whim, bid for it.

How about the most recent book?

The most recent addition to my collection is the 1912 Bodley Head edition of ‘Salome’, featuring Beardsley’s illustrations. Although it isn’t the purple-wrappered 1893 edition, Beardsley’s illustrations presented too much of a temptation. Although I am currently on the lookout for the 1907 edition with the previously suppressed peacock-feather cover illustration, in gilt.

And your favorite book in your collection?

It has to be ‘Dorian Gray’, and not because it’s my favourite novel, but because of the thrill of the chase and the amount of time it took for me to locate and buy a copy. I waited for two years for the right copy to come up at auction!

I know this must sound sacrilegious to come book collectors but I now use my copy of ‘Dorian Gray’ as a teaching aid. For A-level English Literature, students must be aware of the significance of contextual factors in the production and reception of texts and so to be granted access to the first and early editions of texts they’re studying, or from the era they’re researching, is invaluable. Therefore I deliver lectures and workshops using my collection to give students a real hands-on, materialism-focused approach to analysing texts; I teach them how to ‘read’ books as physical objects and then allow them to interact with the collection themselves.

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Best bargain you’ve found?

The first volume of The Yellow Book that I purchased was from a university library sale. I wandered past the sale table and couldn’t help but notice Aubrey Beardsley’s distinct illustrations on the cover. Despite its location it was in remarkably good condition and I picked it up for about £5.

How about the One that Got Away?

Three months after ‘Dorian Gray’ was published by Ward, Lock & Co in 1891, the publishers issued a large-paper deluxe edition of the novel which was signed by Wilde on the limitation page. Only 250 copies of this edition were published.

Throughout my time at Bloomsbury, I only came across two editions of ‘Dorian Gray’, one was a copy of the 1890 Lippincott’s magazine where the story first appeared but the other was one of these deluxe editions. Now whilst it may be inaccurate to say this was the ‘One that got away’ (as I would never have been able to afford the deluxe edition in a million years), I still feel as though I let it slip through my fingers, as there hasn’t been a deluxe edition come up at auction now for some time.

What would be the Holy Grail for your collection?

I think my above response probably answers this one!

Who is your favourite bookseller / bookstore?

I’m more than likely biased when I say Bloomsbury, having worked there, but I still appear to have sourced most of my collection from the auction house. But if we’re talking about bookstores in general then I love the second hand book store on Church Street in Stoke Newington. They permanently have jazz playing in the background and their literary criticism section always seems to have what I’m looking for.

What would you collect if you didn’t collect books?

Is it cheating if I say bookplates? I know the damage that can be inflicted on the price of a book with an ill-placed bookplate belonging to an unidentifiable owner, and yet I still adore them. I’ve yet to go so far as to collect them by themselves... I still much prefer them to be stuck inside a book!
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