It formed part of the eclectic mix of paintings, books and a great many curious objects that made up a sale titled Private View of November 1 at Sotheby’s (25/20/12.9% buyer’s premium).
This premium-inclusive, £2.76m sale offered items from the English residence of Christopher Cone and the late Stanley J Seeger (d.2011) – the most expensive of which tended to be modern pictures or sculpture, where the odd six-figure bid was made.
During the trial that Sir Laurence Byrne presided over, prosecuting barrister John Mervyn Guthrie Griffith-Jones famously asked of the jury: “Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”
In fact, it was Lady Byrne who read through the novel for her husband and marked up the sexually explicit passages, and she is also understood to have stitched the damask bag in which this famous copy and notes on Central Criminal Court stationery still reside.
The defence called 35 eminent literary and academic figures, among them EM Forster, Richard Hoggart and Rebecca West, to give their opinions on Lawrence’s artistry, intentions, and treatment of sex – and the jury took just three hours to return a not guilty verdict.
“Mr Justice Byrne’s summing up had been fair but his private views were almost certainly glimpsed in his refusal to award costs”, noted the Sotheby’s cataloguer, “…leaving the defendants with a substantial legal bill.”
When last seen at auction, in 1993, this famous copy had sold for £3800.
Chocks away for Biggles
Very different is the other Cone-Seeger lot pictured here, an ink, pencil and gouache artwork made in 1946 by Leslie Stead for the dust jacket of Biggles Delivers the Goods. Stead illustrated almost all of WE Johns’ Biggles books after 1942.