Part of the letter written by Samuel Johnson
Part of the letter written by Samuel Johnson

A Lichfield museum has been confirmed as the new owner of a “lost” letter by Samuel Johnson.

The correspondence sent by the author, poet and playwright was recently sold at auction after being discovered among a cache of documents at a Gloucestershire country home.

It had previously been officially classified as lost by scholars having disappeared from public view.

But the identity of the “British institution” which purchased the letter at auction following the rediscovery had been kept under wraps, but The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum has now confirmed it has acquired the item.

The funding for the purchase came thanks to support from the Friends of the National Libraries, The Johnson Society, Lichfield City Council, and the generosity of private donor Phil Jones.

Councillor Dave Robertson, leader of Lichfield City Council, said:

“Our shared history and heritage should belong to all of us and I’m so pleased that the City Council has been able to help make sure that this important document stays in the UK and in the hands of the public.”

Cllr Dave Robertson

The letter, penned by Dr Johnson in 1783, had been expected to sell for between £8,000 and £12,000 when it went under the hammer.

But a bidding battle saw the eventual price reach £38,460.

Phil Jones, chairman of the Johnson Society, said:

“We are delighted that the birthplace has been able to secure this important and historic letter, written in Johnson’s own hand, against fierce competition.

“The Johnson Society has worked closely with the birthplace and others to make this happen – it is wonderful that a historic artefact has been retained for local people and visitors alike to enjoy.

“It demonstrates the ongoing relevance of Johnson and his writing for a contemporary audience.”

Phil Jones

Plans are now being drawn up for the letter to go on public display in The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.

Nell Hoare MBE, from Friends of the National Libraries, said:

“Trustees of the Friends of the National Libraries were impressed that The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum secured such significant local support at short notice to raise sufficient funds for success at auction against stiff international competition.

“We are delighted to have played a part bringing Johnson’s recently rediscovered letter to Sophia Thrale into the museum’s collections, where it will be accessible to all in perpetuity.”

Nell Hoare MBE

Founder of Lichfield Live and editor of the site.