October 2, 2019

Dickens’s wine cellar inventory notebook sells at auction


Just three days before his death, a 58 year old Charles Dickens went down to the basement of his country house. His goal? To catalog his booze, including a recent shipment of sherry from a local wine merchant.

The notebook he updated that day—his chronicle of pretty big beer—remains with us. In fact, it went up for auction at Sotheby’s London just last week.

According to Reina Gattuso at Atlas Obscura’s “Gastro Obscura,” the yellowing notebook fetched £11,875 or $14,641. The notebook was just part of a collection that ultimately pulled down $2 million dollars. As Gattuso writes:

“There’s a hugely passionate collector community for Dickens,” says Gabriel Heaton, a Specialist from Sotheby’s Books and Manuscripts Department. Those that participated in the auction had their pick of Dickens classics, including first editions of Great Expectations, which sold for $217,350, and A Christmas Carol, which sold for $116,438. But the humble household inventory had something these great works didn’t: It was one of the last things Dickens wrote.

We know that Dickens himself enjoyed the drink with about the same enthusiasm as his well-inclined Victorian peers. And he definitely enjoyed entertaining … hence his taking of the inventory, his daughters were coming over. And he put together an impressive list, with the conspicuous absence of the poor-man’s drink: Gin.

Dickens had a funny way of writing about The Sauce, as well. And we have him to thank for the Timber-Doodle and the Gum-Tickler, as well as these others. Although I suppose someone would have to use those words for us to owe him the thanks.

Perhaps the 14 large for the notebook is thanks enough.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.