The start of the First World War brought a halt to auctions, and spending money on luxury items was regarded as inappropriate. Yet Chester Beatty may have bought his first medieval manuscripts in 1914.

By this time, Beatty was living in London with his second wife, Edith. Despite the shutdown of auctions, in April 1915 Christie’s staged a sale in aid of the Red Cross, which included three medieval manuscripts. In December that year Beatty met Sydney Cockerell, director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, and, perhaps inspired by Cockerell, bought two manuscripts at Sotheby’s. Beatty bought two more manuscripts at the Red Cross sale held the following year.

After that the book-trade began to recover, with major sales in 1917 and 1918 laying the foundations for a post-war boom. However, in 1917, as America joined the war, Beatty went on a round-the-world tour, bringing back items from China and Japan.

This talk by Dr Laura Cleaver tells the story of Chester Beatty’s collecting during the Great War and explores how a newcomer to manuscript collecting responded to the disrupted market in a global conflict.

Originaly delievered at the Chester Beatty Library on 18 March 2021.