Formed by screenwriter and director Andrew Birkin during research for a trilogy of plays, The Lost Boys (first broadcast in 1978) and for his biography of J.M. Barrie, a 19-lot collection that tells the story of his friendship with the Llewelyn-Davies boys and the emergence of one of the best known characters in all of children’s literature, Peter Pan, attracted a great deal of media publicity before being put up for sale at Sotheby’s on December 16.
Birkin tracked down the one surviving 'lost boy', Nico Llewelyn-Davies*, and later acquired from him - in exchange for several cases of malt whisky - a trunk stuffed with family letters, photo albums and the unpublished typescript of his brother Peter's 'Family Morgue', a transcription of other family papers. Birkin subsequently acquired more material from other family members, as well as from trade sources.
Birkin had always intended to donate the collection to Barrie's own benificiaries of the success enjoyed by Peter Pan, Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, but his sympathies will doubtless have been heightened by the fact that, like the principal model for Peter Pan, Michael Llewelyn-Davies, his own son had met an accidental death just short of his 21st birthday, and he will have been well aware of Barrie's curse, "May God blast anyone who writes a biography about me".
There was some concern expressed about the break-up and dispersal of the archive and on the day a few lots were left unsold, but most of the major ones found buyers and raised just over £90,000 for the hospital charity.
A group of 27 letters from Barrie (to various correspondents) that illuminate the writer's relationship with the Llewelyn-Davies family sold for £10,000; a lot offering the only known letters still in private hands of the letters that Barrie wrote to the boys made £9000; a collection of over 300 letters by or to various members of the family sold at £19,000, and the family photograph archive, containing upwards of 400 images, many of them taken by Barrie himself, made £40,000. Barrie's photograph of the six-year-old Michael Llewelyn-Davies dressed as Peter Pan is seen right.
A costume worn by Zena Dare in the first provincial production of Peter Pan (Manchester 1906) was sold for £3400.
* The Llewelyn-Davies family story was a tragic one. Arthur Llewelyn-Davies (Mr Darling in the story) died in 1907, just two years after the first performance of the play, and his wife succumbed to cancer in 1910. George was killed in France in WWI; Michael was drowned in 1921 (possibly in a suicide pact) and Peter threw himself under a London Underground train some 40 years later.