UPCOTT (WILLIAM) Series of twenty-five autograph letters signed (mostly "Wm. Upcott"), to his fellow autograph collector, John Temple
Lot 172
Sold for £ 5,250 (US$ 7,038) inc. premium

Lot Details
Series of twenty-five autograph letters signed (mostly "Wm. Upcott"), to his fellow autograph collector, John Temple of 10 Brompton Grove and latterly Greenhill Place, Worcester, enthusing about their shared passion, with vivid accounts of his dealings with W.H. Ireland, Dawson Turner, Cowper's cousin Johnny Johnson and others; with discussion of both forthcoming sales, autographs already acquired and the duty of care that they have as collectors, with putting his collection in proper order being an urgent if never fulfilled priority, 64 pages, in a red cloth binder by Deighton & Co of Worcester, slight dampstaining at beginning of volume, just affecting the first letter and some extraneous material also inserted, 4to, Ensham near Oxford (i.e. Eynsham) and the London Institution, 1817-1829


  • 'MR TURNER HAS MADE VERY RAPID STRIDES WITH HIS COLLECTION SINCE I EXAMINED THEM... SO THAT I FEAR I MUST RESIGN MY IMPERIAL TITLE IN HIS FAVOUR': William Upcott to a fellow collector, written during the heyday of the burgeoning cult of collecting autograph letters that, in the words of Janet Ing Freeman, 'Upcott's relentless "autographic mania" had served largely to inspire' (ODNB).

    These letters, generally written in helter-skelter fashion, are extraordinarily rich in content. To take just one letter, that dated 11 June 1822: this contains a lively, and far from flattering review of T.F. Dibdin's latest book (presumably the Aedes Althorpianae) and runs without pause into an account of how the notorious forger W.H. Ireland was in the room as he wrote, dashing on to discuss forthcoming sales and the like: "Mr Dibdin has favoured the world with another work from his prolific brain. – I like it the least of all his productions... The omission of a General and Bibliographical Index is unpardonable. – I could the more readily have excused the insertion of a certain Collector's name not wholly unknown to you, -- which might as well have been omitted. – An extraordinary Character has been seated beside me for the last hour – W.H. Ireland of Shakespeare notoriety, -- and he has furnished me with a few GENUINE curiosities. – a protracted correspondence between his father, Samuel Ireland and Sheridan... My book of living Autographists proceeds fairly. Mr Hone has a sale this week in which is a MS. volume of Franks & Original Letters – a strange Medley and not unknown to me. Take a peep at it. Did you see the original Household Book of Q. Elizabeth for sale at Evans's with her signature at the bottom of every page? – Tis not yet gone, and well deserves a Call: -- likewise a small book of Prayers – with her Majestie's Autograph".

    A highlight of the series is Upcott's long account of his visit to Dawson Turner in a letter of 20 November 1822. Once again this is not the only mater of interest, for he goes on to describe his stay with Cowper's cousin and heir Johnny Johnson, and gives a detailed account of the relics in his possession (a subject of particular interest in that many of these have recently been acquired by the Cowper and Newton Museum at Olney): "I went to Yarmouth as proposed – and spent a fortnight at Mr D. Turner's – very much to my satisfaction... Mr Turner has made very rapid strides with his Collection since I examined them, added to which, are the Macro Papers – so that I fear I must resign my Imperial Title in his favour – very much to my chagrin as well as mortification. – But jesting apart – his Collection is a precious one truly – and I think, in the whole, he musters 70 good-sized Volumes. – I feasted my Eyes on the Macro papers with inexpressible gratification: – those Volumes contain such Gems – which we must never expect to rival, but bound up in the worst manner possible. – At present Mr Turner's time is too much occupied to begin the re-arrangement, or even to put in practice his projected plan of publishing a series of fac-similes of the most interesting Autographs – about a thousand in number... From Yarmouth... onwards to Yaxham near East Dereham – the residence of Dr John Johnson – the kinsman of the interesting Poet Cowper and himself & family... I had the melancholy pleasure of sleeping on the very bed and bedstead which supported the Poet in his dying moments..."

    Running through the correspondence is a vein of self-deprecating humour, as when, on 30 August 1826, he complains of the effects of a recent out of ill-health: "Even Autographs have lost their relish – no inducement whatever to open a packet – and I verily believe that the sight of Julius Caesar's signature – would not move a muscle! – This, my good friend – is a bad symptom!" In the last letter, dated 27 November 1829, he pays touching tribute to his fellow enthusiast and to their long friendship. Noting the modern publishing trend of "having the fac-simile of the author – subjoined to nearly all the portraits prefixed to new publications", he rejoices: "These matters were not thought of, when you & I began to collect – therefore I say Bravo – Temple and Upcott! – we have done some good in our day and generation... Did you but see the confused state of my rooms – the pile upon pile – of packets of Autos -- Books – Scraps – and other multifarious messes lying on the Chairs, Table and Floors, you must rail against the slovenliness of dear Sir Your sincere and faithful old friend William Upcott". See illustration on prededing page.
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  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
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