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Whether it was dealing with an Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, or writing a cycle of biblical radio dramas, The Man Born to Be King for an initially nervous BBC, translating Dante’s Divine Comedy for E.V. Rieu’s Penguin Classics, or turning out advertising copy – she was the co-creator of the famous Toucan Guinness advertisements – Dorothy L. Sayers demonstrated a prodigious talent to amuse, entertain, inform or challenge.

Of the author’s papers, the manuscripts of most of the detective novels were sold in the 1970s to Wheaton College in Illinois, who subsequently acquired some juvenilia and many of her letters. The Humanities Research Center at Austin, Texas, who have the manuscript of her unfinished biography of Wilkie Collins, and the Bodleian, are among many other institutions who also hold papers, but the collection of books and papers offered at Sotheby’s on December 19 last was by far the largest archive remaining in private hands.

Some of it still does, either through purchase or by virtue of being unsold – a third of the 51 lots that made up the archive were bought in – but among the lots that did sell were the following:

A pre-presentation copy of the 1928 first edition of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, in only the remnants of the jacket, but inscribed to her mother, was sold at £2400 to Bromlea & Jonkers, who also gave £1800 for DLS’ own copy of the 1933 first edition of Hangman’s Holiday, her first published collection of short stories – featuring the ever-elegant Lord Peter and her other detective creation, a lower-middle class wine salesman called Montague Egg. The latter book was a Gollancz title, in the familiar yellow jacket.

An uncorrected proof copy of The Nine Tailors... with autograph corrections to many pages was lotted with a 1934 first of the book in torn jacket – both items from DLS’ own library – and sold at £3200 to a collector.

A carbon copy typescript of an unpublished Wimsey story called The Locked Room (c.1924?) was bid to £5000, again by a collector.

[In the Segal detective and crime fiction collection reported earlier, a 1923 first of Whose Body?, the book in which Lord Peter Wimsey makes his first appearance, was sold at £880 in the original pale blue cloth, while a copy of Gaudy Night of 1935, in a frayed jacket and with a signature pasted in, went to Maggs at £850.]

Sold for £25,000 to an unnamed institutional buyer was an important collection of manuscripts, typescripts and correspondence relating to DLS’ plays, most of them of a religious nature and including her most important work in this field, the cycle of 12 plays on the life of Christ, The Man Born To Be King. This cycle was written for the BBC and broadcast in 1941-42.

A further collection of papers relating to her religious writings and activities was sold at £8000 to the same institution, but it was a private buyer who gave £9000 for the typescript of her controversial contributions (plus related correspondence) to the wartime symposium on “The Future of the Jews”.

Dorothy Sayers had been rather surprised to be asked to contribute, not least because she had already been accused of anti-semitism in her writing, and feared that anyone trying to be objective and impartial would end up offending everyone, and it gave her great satisfaction that her thesis was not in the end published.

A large collection of autograph and type manuscripts relating to her academic, critical, translation and other literary work brought another institutional bid of £12,000, and there was, of course the vast bulk of her surviving library – a mixture of valuable antiquarian works, research books on her various fields of interests, some good modern firsts (see caption right) and much more besides, which ended up selling for £24,000 to Bromlea & Jonkers.

Buyer’s premium: 17.5/15/10 per cent