Sylvia Plath at Sotheby's: The Results

Sotheby's London offered, from 9 to 21 July 2021, a 55-lot auction of personal effects of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, entitled "Your Own Sylvia: Sylvia Plath’s letters to Ted Hughes and other items, property of Frieda Hughes". This is a different style auction to the two recent ones hosted Bonhams in March 2018 (auction 24633) and June 2021 (auction 26773). All images from Sotheby's.



The bulk of the lots--34 in total--are the 16 and 18 letters from Sylvia Plath to Ted Hughes and to his parents followed by various lots of photographs. These were first published in volumes I & II of The Letters of Sylvia Plath (2017, 2018). Included also are the couple's wedding rings, Sylvia Plath's recipe cards & rolling pin, her tarot deck, some chopsticks, other household items, a few Ted Hughes things, and more. 

Here follows a brief description of the lots along with the estimate and realized prices, which will include the buyer's premium. All prices are in GBP. Any lots that received no bids are identified, too, and the bid counts are mostly right. I tried tracking things live but it got a bit out of control here and there.

Lot 1: Sylvia Plath--Eric Stahlberg. Estimate: 700 - 900 GBP. Sold for 1,764 GBP. Received 25 bids.

Lot 2: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes | Pair of gold wedding rings. Estimate: 6,000 - 8,000 GBP. Sold for 27,720 GBP. Received ? bids.

Lot 3: Egyptian-style glazed amulet of the Horus Falcon, circa early 20th century | Given by Hughes to Plath. Estimate: 800 - 1,200 GBP. Sold for 11,970 GBP. Received 20 bids.

Lot 4: Sylvia Plath | Pen and ink portrait of Ted Hughes, [1956]. Estimate: 10,000 - 15,000 GBP. Sold for 21,420 GBP. Received 4 bids.

Lot 5: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes | Collection of six photographs with the Hughes family in Yorkshire, September 1956. Estimate: 800 - 1,200 GBP. Sold for 2,142 GBP. Received 30 bids.

Lot 6: Sylva Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, "something wonderful and incredible has happened", 1 October 1956. Estimate: 8,000 - 12,000 GBP. Sold for 12,600 GBP. Received 5 bids.

Lot 7: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on her love for him and Cambridge life, 3 October 1956. Estimate: 8,000 - 12,000 GBP. Sold for 22,680 GBP. Received 14 bids.

Lot 8: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, with her poem 'Monologue at 3am', 4 October 1956. Estimate: 12,000 - 18,000 GBP. Sold for 30,240 GBP. Received 10 bids.

Lot 9: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on "my own private doctrine", with a poem, 5 October 1956. Estimate: 15,000 - 20,000 GBP. Sold for 30,240 GBP. Received 8 bids.

Lot 10: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, discussing their poetry, 6 October 1956. Estimate: 15,000 - 20,000 GBP. Sold for 27,720 GBP. Received 7 bids.

Lot 11: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on her love of drawing, 7-8 October 1956. Estimate: 8,000 - 12,000 GBP. Sold for 20,160 GBP. Received 7 bids.

Lot 12: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on her latest stories and loneliness, 9 October 1956. Estimate:8,000 - 12,000 GBP. Sold for 15,120 GBP. Received 8 bids.


Lot 13: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, "we will burn love to death all our long lives", 10 October 1956. Estimate: 8,000 - 12,000 GBP. Sold for 30,240 GBP. Received 9 bids.

Lot 14: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, "off and on have had the strangest dreams", 16 October 1956. Estimate: 7,000 - 9,000 GBP. Sold for 15,120 GBP. Received 9 bids.

Lot 15: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on her study of the tarot and Cambridge life, 17 October 1956. Estimate: 7,000 - 9,000 GBP. Sold for 12,600 GBP. Received 7 bids.

Lot 16: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on her studies and Hughes's fables, 18 October 1956. Estimate: 7,000 - 9,000 GBP. Sold for 15,120 GBP. Received 9 bids.

Lot 17: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, "your voice is like the spirit of god on the waters", 19 October 1956. Estimate: 8,000 - 12,000 GBP. Sold for 21,420 GBP. Received 12 bids.

Lot 18: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, on madness and art, and the literary scene, 20 October 1956. Estimate: 10,000 - 15,000 GBP. Sold for 30,240 GBP. Received 14 bids.

Lot 19: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, "I keep saying to myself: I am married", 21 October 1956. Estimate: 8,000 - 12,000 GBP. Sold for 20,160 GBP. Received 12 bids.

Lot 20: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Ted Hughes, "it is simple a sin not to live with you", 21 October 1956. Estimate: 7,000 - 9,000 GBP. Sold for 27,720 GBP. Received 19 bids.

Lot 21: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Ted Hughes, "I had the queerest dreams last night", 22 October 1956. Estimate: 7,000 - 9,000 GBP. Sold for 8,820 GBP. Received 1 bid.

Lot 22: Tarot de Marseille | Deck of cards owned by Sylvia Plath. Estimate: 4,000 - 6,000 GBP. Sold for 151,200 GBP.
 Received 37 bids.


Lot 23: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, on admitting her marriage, 12 November 1956. Estimate: 7,000 - 8,000 GBP. Sold for 25,200 GBP. Received 17 bids.

Lot 24: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith and William Hughes, [10 December 1956]. Estimate: 4,000 - 6,000 GBP. Sold for 5,040 GBP. Received 1 bid.

Lot 25: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, "now ... his first BOOK", 27 February 1957. Estimate: 7,000 - 9,000 GBP. Sold for 8,820 GBP. Received 1 bid.

Lot 26: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, "daydreaming about the moors", [c.5 May 1957]. Estimate: 5,000 - 7,000 GBP. Sold for 0 GBP. Received 0 bids.

Lot 27: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith and William Hughes, sailing to America, [20 June 1957]. Estimate: 2,000 - 3,000 GBP. Sold for 5,040 GBP. Received 10 bids.

Lot 28: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Edith and William Hughes, "we'll be writing like fury", [22 July 1957]. Estimate: 3,000 - 5,000 GBP. Sold for 0 GBP. Received 0 bids.

Lot 29: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, on life in America, 2 February 1958. Estimate: 5,000 - 7,000 GBP. Sold for 0 GBP. Received 0 bids.

Lot 30: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith and William Hughes, "hoping to finish a book of poems", 28 April 1958. Estimate: 4,000 - 6,000 GBP. Sold for 0 GBP. Received 0 bids.

Lot 31: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, on meeting a groundhog, 1 July 1958. Estimate: 4,000 - 6,000 GBP. Sold for 0 GBP. Received 0 bids.

Lot 32: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, on their life in Boston, September 1958. Estimate: 5,000 - 7,000 GBP. Sold for 12,600 GBP. Received 11 bids.

Lot 33: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, on Ted Hughes as a wolf-man, 30 December 1958. Estimate: 7,000 - 9,000 GBP. Sold for 0 GBP. Received 0 bids.

Lot 34: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, visiting "the town of my childhood", 17 January 1959. Estimate: 4,000 - 6,000 GBP. Sold for 7,560 GBP. Received 7 bids.

Lot 35: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, on the 3rd anniversary of their meeting, 26 February 1959. Estimate: 4,000 - 6,000 GBP. Sold for 5,040 GBP. Received 1 bids.

Lot 36: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, on their latest publications, 31 March 1959. Estimate: 4,000 - 6,000 GBP. Sold for 0 GBP. Received 0 bids.

Lot 37: Sylvia Plath | Typed letter signed, to Edith & William Hughes, "the prospect of driving to California", 24 May 1959. Estimate: 2,000 - 3,000 GBP. Sold for 3,024 GBP. Received 3 bids.

Lot 38: Frieda Plath--Hymnal | German hymnal, 1907. Estimate: 700 - 900 GBP. Sold for 2,394 GBP. Received 15
 bids.

Lot 39: Sylvia Plath | Autograph postcard signed, to Edith & William Hughes, from California, 3 August 1959. Estimate: 1,500 - 2,000 GBP. Sold for 3,528 GBP. Received 10 bids.

Lot 40: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath | Joint autograph letter signed, to William and Edith Hughes, March 1960. Estimate: 8,000 - 12,000 GBP. Sold for 0 GBP. Received 0 bids.


Lot 41: Sylvia Plath | Collection of 39 family photographs annotated by her, 1960-62. Estimate: 1,000 - 1,500 GBP. Sold for 4,788 GBP. Received 17 bids.

Lot 42: Sylvia Plath | Autograph letter signed, to Edith Hughes, recuperating in hospital, 6 March [1961]. Estimate: 7,000 - 9,000 GBP. Sold for 13,860 GBP. Received 8 bids.

Lot 43: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes | photographic portrait by David Bailey, inscribed by Plath, 1961, and another press photo. Estimate: 800 - 1,200 GBP. Sold for 12,600 GBP. Received 22 bids.

Lot 44: Sylvia Plath | Pencil sketch entitled "Great Faux Pas". Estimate: 1,500 - 2,000 GBP. Sold for 12,600 GBP. Received 30 bids.

Lot 45: Sylvia Plath | Collection of recipes and a rolling pin. Estimate: 800 - 1,200 GBP. Sold for 20,160 GBP. Received 61 bids.



Lot 46: Sylvia Plath | Three household objects formerly belonging to her. Estimate: 200 - 300 GBP. Sold for 11,340 GBP. Received 46 bids.

Lot 47: Lacquer chopsticks | Given to Sylvia Plath by Ted Hughes. Estimate: 500 - 700 GBP. Sold for 2,268 GBP. Received 28 bids.

Lot 48: Homer | The Iliad, trans. Lattimore, with illustrations by Leonard Baskin, 1962, inscribed by Baskin to "Sylvia &Ted". Estimate: 1,000 - 1,500 GBP. Sold for 5,292 GBP. Received 33 bids.


Lot 49: Sylvia Plath | Family photograph album ("The Hughes family Album"), 1957-1962. Estimate: 30,000 - 50,000 GBP. Sold for 44,100 GBP. Received 3 bids.

Lot 50: Sylvia Plath | Document signed, authorising the BBC broadcast of 'Three Women', 9 June 1962. Estimate: 1,000 - 1,500 GBP. Sold for 3,276 GBP. Received 15 bids.

Lot 51: Ted Hughes | Four photographs annotated on the reverse by Ted Hughes, 1950s. Estimate: 300 - 500 GBP. Sold for 2,772GBP. Received 27 bids.

Lot 52: Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath | Two photographs, 1950s. Estimate: 700 - 900 GBP. Sold for 4,788  GBP. Received 33 bids.

Lot 53: Ted Hughes | Autograph letter signed, listing the Ariel Poems, [21 January 1966]. Estimate: 1,500 - 2,000 GBP. Sold for 3,024 GBP. Received 9 bids.

Lot 54: Ted Hughes | A pair of decorative glass orbs, used as paperweights by Ted Hughes. Estimate: 1,000 - 1,500 GBP. Sold for 1,386GBP. Received 2 bids.

Lot 55: Ted Hughes | Group of items relating to Sylvia Plath’s letters. Estimate: 800 - 1,200 GBP. Sold for 693 GBP. Received 13 bids.


The total realized in the sale, again with premiums and fees assessed, was 777,609 GBP.

All links accessed 8 July 2021.

Comments

  1. Is it me or is it a bit weird that the Tarot cards would go for so much more than the wedding rings?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A lot about that auction, but particularly this, was weird. The Photo Album going for comparatively so little is astonishing.

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  2. Do you think there's a chance these pieces will someday return to the archives?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous. It is possible that archives purchased some of these pieces but it may be weeks before we know. And of course personal collectors purchased pieces from the auction, so it is up to them... It's a tough call. The good thing is all the letters are available not just as images on Sotheby's website, but also in both volumes of The Letters of Sylvia Plath. So there is no loss of the texts which is, I think, important.

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