By Luke Baker
Fancy some 232-year old pornography, written in the Bastille and hidden behind a stone?
Or something more intellectually stimulating? How about mathematical equations sketched by quantum theory pioneers Erwin Schroedinger? Or poems from the pen of Arthur Rimbaud?
All yours if you have the money.
One of the world’s largest collections of historic letters, musical scores, notes and manuscripts — including the Marquis de Sade’s Bastille-written “120 Days of Sodom” — will be auctioned in Paris later this month.
The vast collection was assembled by Aristophil, a French company set up in 1990 that raised funds from investors and art lovers, granting them in exchange a share in a trove of documents, drawings and objets d’art acquired around the world.
Aristophil’s founder, Gerard Lheritier, appeared to be doing well, earning the moniker “the king of manuscripts”. But the firm went bankrupt in 2015 having spent hundreds of millions of euros on some 130,000 pieces.
Lheritier, 69, was detained and put under investigation for fraud, a charge he has denied
The entire collection is now being liquidated, a process that is expected to take six years spread over more than 200 auctions, partly to avoid saturating the market and suppressing prices.
All will be handled by auctioneers Aguttes, with the first taking place at the Drouot auction house in Paris on Dec. 20.
Among the most high-profile lots is de Sade’s manuscript, written on 33 pieces of scroll while he was imprisoned in 1785.
“It’s a book written on a 12-metre (yard) long roll which if it’s rolled up tightly can be hidden in your hand,” said Claude Aguttes, the chief auctioneer. “Sade used to hide it every night behind a stone in the Bastille.”
When he was forcibly taken from the prison in 1789, the scroll, a pornographic novel telling the tale of four noblemen who resolve to experience every sexual perversion, was left behind and only later discovered. It is expected to sell for between 4 million and 6 million euros ($4.75-$7.10 million).
Other lots include a 40-page first-hand account of the sinking of the Titanic by survivor Helen Churchill Candee, whose dramatic testimony helped inspire the movie “Titanic“
There are original manuscripts by Alexandre Dumas and Honore de Balzac, emotional correspondence from Admiral Nelson and Napoleon I, and operatic scores drafted by Richard Strauss, among many others.
The first sale is expected to raise between 12 and 16 million euros. The bidding will be closely watched by the 18,000 people who invested in Aristophil and lost everything.
They hope to recoup some of those losses via the liquidation, but the prices may never match what Lheritier paid — he said the Marquis de Sade’s manuscript cost 7 million euros, but it is not expected to reach that sum.
Among the most notable 20th century pieces are four manuscripts by Andre Breton, a founder of surrealism, that are being sold together for the first time. They include his famous definition of the movement from the Surrealist Manifesto.
The manuscripts together are expected to sell for between 4.5 and 5.5 million euros, the auctioneers estimate.
(Writing by Luke Baker Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)