|Anthony Gasson's opera gem needs a home|
|Written by news desk - telegraph.co.uk|
Rupert Christiansen found Anthony Gasson's operatic memorabilia collection a joy to rootle around in.
Anthony Gasson was an optometrist in Rickmansworth whose passion for opera started one evening in 1946 when he was 13, twiddling the dial of the wireless. He landed on a broadcast by the Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli, and the voice enraptured him. He had found his wavelength.
Gasson was also a collector, bordering, like so many of the breed, on the obsessive-compulsive. From bus tickets, he moved on to operatic memorabilia, his first purchase being a plan of the auditorium of the old King’s Theatre in the Haymarket. It cost him 6d: today it would be worth hundreds of times that.
For more than 60 years until his death last spring, Gasson continued to hoard everything from magazines to paintings, prints and photographs of the stars, by way of ticket stubs and figurines (recordings, oddly, didn’t interest him). His particular interests were opera in London and anything related to the diva of the 1830s Maria Malibran; his Holy Grail (which alas he never found) was a Mozart manuscript.
There are perhaps 50,000 items in his collection – all annotated – but now his widow Susan doesn’t know what to do with them.
Some gems have already been cherry-picked: a stash of autograph letters has gone to the British Library, and a private buyer found for a virtually complete run of Covent Garden opera programmes dating to 1858.
Susan would like to pass on the remainder of the collection as an entity, but at a commercial rate – “it’s my pension”. Christie’s came to her home in Hove to inspect the trove and pronounced it the best of its kind in the world. But no big auction house is prepared to take on so many low-value lots, and none of our big public museums has the necessary resources to pay a fair price.
An hour rootling around the collection was a joy for this opera buff. It contains everything from lovable junk (souvenir mugs) to genuine treasures (a superb portrait of Rossini), and it must be valuable as a research tool.
Susan would rather not hand it over to a dealer and let it go piecemeal: ideally, the public should have access and a proper catalogue compiled. Are there any takers in Britain? (Get in touch with me, and I’ll pass the message on.) Or is this another bit of our patrimony destined to end up abroad?