London dealers competed against several international institutions and collectors.
The Robert Browning Settlement, a charity set up in Camberwell after Browning’s death, was selling its very personal archive through Rayleigh, Essex, firm Stacey’s (25% buyer’s premium inc VAT) in the hope of replacing funds lost during the pandemic.
The Settlement – an evangelical concern once closely associated with the non-conformist York Street Chapel where Browning was christened – was publicly inaugurated in 1895 by church elders with support from the Browning family. Robert ‘Pen’ Barrett Browning (1846-1912), Robert and Elizabeth Browning’s only child who was a moderately successful artist, became president in 1906, presenting the charity with a marble bust of his father.
His widow, Fanny Barrett Browning, gave many other items including notebooks, letters and photographs, with other items, such as a series of family portraits, acquired at a Sotheby’s sale in 1913.
While the Georgian church was demolished in the 1970s, the Settlement, based on Walworth Road, maintained a museum and library that was open by appointment only. However, it has recently closed. Rev Clive Dunnico, the honorary warden of the charity, said: “The pandemic had a severe effect on our financial resources. With a heavy heart, we are now selling our collection of Browning memorabilia and historical records to enable us to continue our services to those who seek our help.”
The archive was offered for sale on June 10 in 114 lots, most with modest estimates.
Robert Browning’s address book containing the names and addresses of several Victorian luminaries – including Lord Tennyson who is buried close to him in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey – was offered at £50-80 but sold for £5500.
The same sum was bid for a gilt-framed portrait miniature of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Flush her cocker spaniel, last sold at Sotheby’s in 1913, that was guided at £100-150.
Leading proceedings was the marble bust by Pen Browning that, dated 1886, was presented to the Browning Settlement in 1906.
Estimated at £2000-3000, it sold to the Armstrong Browning Library in Texas for £17,000. Located on the campus of Baylor University, Waco, it is home to the largest collection of material relating to the Browning family.
Appealing to a different collecting subset was a 1906 printing of Robert Browning’s Poetical Works that had been presented to the Settlement by Heroic Age explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1913.
Inscribed to the inside cover with a dedication to the officers on board the Nimrod from a sponsor Agnes S Fox, it came together with a handwritten letter and signed photo of Lieutenant Shackleton explaining the book had been part of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-09.
Bringing £11,000 (estimate £200-300), it also went to a US buyer against competition from seven phone lines and internet platforms.