Charlie Watts’ book collection to be auctioned

He was best known as the drummer for the Rolling Stones, but away from the stage Charlie Watts was an avid collector of modern literature.

His library contained dozens of rare first editions, including signed first editions of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound Of The Baskervilles.

Now, two years after his death, some of those gems will be put up for auction.

The drummer’s collection of jazz memorabilia is also being sold.

Christie’s, which is hosting the auction, will display the highlights in New York, Los Angeles and London ahead of the sale on 28-29 September.

The signed copy of Gatsby leads the auction, with an estimated price of £200,000-300,000.

Fitzgerald dedicated the book to MGM Screenwriter Harold Goldman, with whom he worked on the 1938 Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh comedy A Yank In Oxford.

The inscription reads: “For Harold Goldman, the original ‘Gatsby’ of this story, with thanks for letting me reveal these secrets of his past”.

The Great Gatsby first editionIMAGE SOURCE,CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LIMITED 2023
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The first edition of The Great Gatsby is estimated to sell for £200-300,000

Also for sale is a proof copy of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, which the author sent to friends for their comments in 1944. Waugh later made several changes to the novel, including rewriting the ending and changing some names.

The first edition of the Sherlock Holmes’ adventure Hound Of The Baskervilles is signed with the comment: “I perambulated Dartmoor before I wrote this book,” a reference to the book’s setting.

Other highlights include rare and first editions of books by Agatha Christie, PG Wodehouse and James Joyce.

A full-size Victorian replica of the Bayeaux TapestryIMAGE SOURCE,CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LIMITED 2023
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A full-size Victorian replica of the Bayeaux Tapestry could fetch £12,000

“He took great pleasure in owning these things,” says Paul Sexton, who wrote Watts’ authorised biography, Charlie’s Good Tonight.

“He valued his time at home and he would read on the road, so literature was a very important part of his make-up.”

He added: “I don’t think he acquired them because he knew they would become valuable, he just took a huge satisfaction in owning these great works and tracking down, with the help of experts, original first editions.”

Jazz obsession

Books weren’t the star’s only passion. He also collected memorabilia from the American Civil War, antique silverware, vintage cars, drum kits and even a wardrobe of Edward VIII’s Savile Row suits.

But his life’s biggest obsession was jazz. Growing up in Wembley, he and his lifelong friend Dave Green saved all their money to buy 78rpm records by Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny Dodds, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

One of his favourites was Walkin’ Shoes by the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, featuring the drumming of Chico Hamilton, who Watts tried to emulate by taking the neck off a banjo and playing the body with wire brushes.

He started collecting jazz recordings and related ephemera in his teens, and that only accelerated once the Rolling Stones started making money.

The Rolling Stones on stage in 1989IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,

Watts (centre) with his bandmates on stage in 1989

“He was hugely influenced not just by the sound of jazz, but the look of jazz, as well,” says Sexton.

“If somebody was wearing a particular shirt on one of their classic album covers, then he had to have that shirt. It was completely informed by his almost hero worship of these musicians… because he just didn’t think of himself as their equal.”

“His love of jazz never left him,” adds Green, who called Watts’ collection “truly astonishing”.

Some of those items are now being sold by the late musician’s estate, with a particular focus on his favourite saxophonist, Charlie Parker.

Among the lots are Parker’s Associated Musicians Membership Card, his contracts for the Alto Break sessions and a pair of Down Beat awards from 1952.

Charlie Parker award trophiesIMAGE SOURCE,CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LIMITED 2023
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Charlie Parker’s award trophies were a prized possession

George Gershwin’s annotated score for Porgy and Bess will also be showcased, with an estimated price of £10,000-15,000.

Further Jazz lots include two scores by Irving Berlin – Songs from Top Hat and Songs from Follow the Fleet – inscribed to Ginger Rogers; and two inscribed piano scores by the influential cornetist Leon ‘Bix’ Beiderbecke.

But while Watts was an avid collector of music memorabilia, he could never quite wrap his head around the idea of people buying Rolling Stones’ artefacts.

“I think he thought they were a bit mad,” says Sexton. “He never bought into the the mythology surrounding the Rolling Stones.

“At the end of the day, really, it was still a job for him – as much as it was one he was very proud of.”

The auction will take place in two parts, a live sale at Christie’s headquarters in London on 28 September, and an online sale that runs from 15 to 29 September.

Highlights will be put on display in Los Angeles from 25 to 29 July, New York from 5 to 8 September, and London from 20 to 27 September.

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