A Sordid Tale of The Destruction of a Great Collection
Finally, in 2001, nineteen of the illustrations made their way to Caledonia Books in Glasgow. They came there, along with many books and other items, from descendants of Stennard. By then, no one had any idea of their worth. Somewhere along the line, the twentieth drawing was separated from the others, and it ended up in Paul Mellon's collection, and is now at Yale. It may well have been separated before the 1836 auction. However, the remaining nineteen stayed together.
It was at Caledonia Books that two Yorkshire booksellers, Paul Williams and Jeffrey Bates, stumbled upon them. They thought they might be significant, but were not certain. They took them to Dominic Winter, the auction house, which brought in experts. It was then discovered that these were Blake's original drawings, not just prints. While twelve were known from the 1808 printing of The Grave, the other seven were new. The nineteen were offered to the Tate, a British museum and gallery, with a great interest in Blake, for roughly $7 million. The Tate was given five months to raise the funds. They were unable to meet the deadline.
Meanwhile, things started to get ugly. Caledonia became aware of the value of the works taken by the Yorkshire booksellers and sued them, claiming they had been taken on approval, not sold. The parties settled in 2002, with Caledonia getting half and the Yorkshire booksellers splitting the other half. After the various booksellers resolved their dispute in November, they apparently scheduled another meeting with the Tate. However, at that point London art dealer Libby Howie stepped in, evidently offering a higher price, and grabbed the illustrations before the Tate could make another offer. Howie reportedly had been called in for an opinion during the lawsuit and must have seen an opportunity to make some serious dough off of the Blake collection. She rounded up cash from some unnamed private investor/s, whose interest was neither Blake, preservation, art, heritage, or anything like that. It was money, plain and simple. They saw an opportunity to make big bucks by inserting themselves in the transaction, and if that meant the destruction of a great collection or national treasure, so what? Let's all hope they really enjoy the Bentleys or whatever they buy with their profits, because the world of art and culture will pay mightily for their fleeting pleasure.