Samuel Johnson letter of 1783 sold for £13,200 by Halls.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Bidding on a small group of lots featuring the work of Samuel Johnson that featured in a Shropshire sale of March 9 was topped at £13,200 by a letter of 1783.

Seemingly unpublished and sent to an un-named correspondent, Johnson attempts here to find employment for an un-named young man of his acquaintance.

Following up on an earlier letter, he repeats his request that this young man, “…not without literature and accustomed to write for lawyers”, but seemingly in great distress at the time, might be “…found employment as a clerk or a copyer”.

The letter had been purchased by the consignor at Sotheby’s in the mid-1960s “to stop it from going abroad”. This time it was guided at £3000-5000 by Halls (22/12% buyer’s premium) in Shrewsbury.

Its market rarity was emphasised with a reference to the collection of almost 750 Johnson letters formed by Donald (1909-66) and Mary Hyde (1912-2003) over some 60 years.

Halls noted: “As a result of Donald and Mary Hyde’s collecting, Johnson’s letters are now quite scarce on the market.”

Amounting to more than half the known total, it seems, that collection was in 2003 bequeathed to the Houghton Library at Harvard.

A second issue example of the 1747, first edition of Johnson’s Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language was sold at £2500 by Halls.


The ghost of Johnson berates Hester Thrale in the rare coloured print that took £750 at Halls.

Sold at £750 was a rare print showing Johnson’s ghost offering money to Hester Thrale, whose Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson was published a few years after his death.

The text seen in the lower portion of the print includes as part of the ghostly Johnson’s complaint: “I thought the grave with hallow’d shade / Would now protect my name. / Yet there in vain I seek repose / My friends each little fault disclose / and murder Johnson’s Fame / First B...ll [James Boswell] with officious care/Shew’d me as men would show a Bear / and call’d himself my Friend.

“Sir J...n [Sir John Hawkins] strew’d my hearse / and Co....y [Colley Cibber] pester’d me with verse” he goes on to complain, but now it is Hester Thrale who is his real target.

“You torture without end”, he complains, and ends with the words “For God’s sake Madam, let me rest / Nor longer vex your quondam Guest / I’ll pay you for your Ale.”

Expedition disaster


Ernest Shackleton letter sold for £1850 by Halls.

Other highlights of the Shropshire sale included a typed but signed letter on Trans-Antarctic Expedition notepaper in which Ernest Shackleton writes to Lord Burnham at the Daily Telegraph about his disastrous expedition of 1914-17.

It was one in which the expedition ship, Endurance, was famously trapped for nine months in drifting ice and eventually sank.

The letter sold online at £1850.

Famous headmaster


1837 first of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, £1600 at Halls.

An 1837 first of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers in a maroon morocco binding with a gilt floral design – possibly produced by the publishers for presentation, it was suggested – bore the bookplate of a Dr Arnold that was thought by the saleroom to be most likely that of the famous headmaster of Rugby School. It sold at £1600 to an internet bidder.