Fourteen lots featuring the works of Muriel Spark caused a shock in a May 17 sale held by Lyon & Turnbull (25/20% buyer’s premium) when, against a high estimate total of £7100, they actually raised £78,150.
The previous best for any of the writer’s books was just £500, paid five years ago for a signed copy of her 1957 first novel, The Comforters, in Bloomsbury’s sale of the Clive Hirschhorn library. In this Scottish sale a copy of that book inscribed “Robin with love from Mummy” was bid to £2200.
And that was the key – for this was a collection formed by Samuel HL Spark, known as Robin, the son Muriel bore in 1938 during an unhappy, short-lived marriage that saw her emigrate to what was then Southern Rhodesia.
Most of the books were inscribed either to her parents or to Robin, the son with whom she was later to break off all relations and disinherit.
The fact that Muriel had converted to Catholicism, whereas Robin adopted his grandparents’ orthodox Judaism, was one early cause of the breakdown, and Muriel also accused him of seeking publicity in their relationship to advance his career as a painter.
Matters continued to deteriorate and long before her death in Italy in 2006, Muriel had made certain that Robin would not be a beneficiary of her estate and instead left her substantial fortune to her companion of many years, Penelope Jardine.
“Most of the books were inscribed either to her parents or to Robin, the son with whom she was to later break off all relations and disinherit
The earliest items offered were two copies of a single-page leaflet of 1933 printing a poem, Out of a Book. It had won the 15-year-old Muriel a competition commemorating the birth centenary of Sir Walter Scott. At the time they sold at a penny each to raise money for an Edinburgh children’s charity, but those in her son’s collection raised £4200 and £3200.
The following lot, published in 1951, was Child of Light. A Reassessmentof Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley inscribed “With much love to Mother, Dad and Robin…” It sold at £3400 – and prices just kept on getting higher.
A copy of her second novel, Robinson of 1958, made £3800, and a collection of short stories issued that same year as The Go-Away Bird sold at £6500. Both were inscribed to her parents.
Then came The Ballad of Peckham Rye of 1960, inscribed “Robin darling – This is your book” at £6000.
However, it was what is probably her best-known and most widely read book, a copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie of 1961 inscribed “To Robin, Love & Wonkies[?] Mummy xxx” that really took off, selling at £17,000.
The previous best for a book that is said to have one of her teachers at Edinburgh’s James Gillespie School for Girls as its inspiration was a signed copy that Lyon & Turnbull had itself sold for £390 in 2013.
One lot of four books, among them Memento Mori (1959), The Girls of Slender Means (1963) and a play, Doctors of Philosophy (1963), inscribed either to her parents or Robin, made £8000.
But the day’s highest bid of £18,000 came on a bigger job lot. It included some 25 books, mostly inscribed to Robin, in both fiction and non-fiction fields, along with others to which Spark had made some contribution. These were lotted with 38 other, unidentified books.