Revealing the mysteries of Agatha Christie's eclectic collection at Greenway
Greenway in Devon contains the results of a lifetime of collecting. It was the beloved holiday home of the famous and much-loved author Agatha Christie (1890-1976) and her family. Here we present a selection of the family's cherished objects that helped to turn Greenway into Agatha’s dream house.
Five generations of collectors
Agatha’s love of collecting was instilled in her as a child by her grandparents and parents. As an adult, her passion was shared by her second husband, Max Mallowan, her daughter Rosalind, son-in-law Anthony and grandson Matthew. When living at the house, the family loved to go to nearby salerooms to support local artists and craft workers, adding to their ever-growing collection.
The collection at Greenway comprises over 12,000 items, covering a huge range of dates, from pre-historic archaeology to 20th-century studio pottery.
Some passions were shared by several members of the family, while others were an individual interest. The family were all interested in Tunbridge ware, a marquetry technique used on an array of wooden objects including boxes, inkstands, trays, tea caddies and more. Meanwhile Agatha was responsible for collecting the numerous straw work boxes at Greenway, some of which may have been made by French prisoners of war during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
Agatha's deathly connections
A collection of 40 bottles of homeopathic medicine, contained in a purpose-made wooden box, allude to Agatha’s pharmaceutical knowledge and qualifications. As a young woman, Agatha studied theoretical and practical chemistry and she took tuition from a pharmacist in Torquay. Death by poison is a common feature of her fiction, and her pharmaceutical training was certainly called upon.
In the Entrance Hall, a distinctive skull-shaped porcelain jar strikes a sinister note. Made in Germany in the late 19th century, Max used it to store his tobacco.
Originally used as a sitting room, the Morning Room was commandeered to house the family’s growing collection. There is a fine display of ceramics in the room, many of which were made by the Swansea and Nantgarw factories in Wales. Of particular interest are the items of botanical porcelain, much loved by Rosalind and Anthony.
Prominently displayed is the portrait of Agatha as a young girl. Entitled 'Lost in Reverie', it was painted by the American artist Douglas John Connah. It shows Agatha at the age of four, clutching her beloved doll, Rosie.
The very same doll is also on display. Rosie was made in France by the company Jumeau, which was famed for making dolls with painted faces and detailed clothing that followed the contemporary fashions.
Agatha and Max’s methodical approach to collecting was perhaps nowhere more evident than in their silver collection. Totalling 290 pieces, their collection was representative of nearly every year of manufacture from 1648 to 1836. Agatha even made a detailed list of the inidividual items, providing valuable details of how and where the pieces were acquired, from candlesticks and tea pots to bleeding bowls and ear trumpets.
In Agatha's bedroom, there is a mother-of-pearl inlaid chest that Agatha bought while in Damascus in 1929. Agatha described it as the ‘sort of furniture that reminds one of fairyland.’ Clearly a piece much cherished by Agatha, it has occupied pride of place in her bedroom since she brought it to Greenway.
Books, books and yet more books
Greenway boasts a 5,000-strong book collection, most of which is contained in the lower bookcases that line the walls of the Library. The range of books give a good feel for the varied interests of the different family members. Subjects range from Buddhism to gardens and antiques; amongst them, on display upstairs in the fax room, is the collection of Greenway Editions of Agatha’s books. The library itself may have been the inspiration for the setting of her book 'The Body in the Library'.
But perhaps the most important strength at Greenway is the rich and varied collection of ceramics. Many pieces were bought although some were taken from archaeological digs overseas and have cultural and religious relevance to those places. The collection includes one of the oldest ceramic objects in all of the Trust’s collections of ceramics, a glazed earthenware camel from the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD).
Greenway also houses an incredibly strong collection of 20-century British studio pottery, including a vase by Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie when she was working at Cole Pottery, Coleshill just before World War II.
These items reflect the family – the camel was a gift from Max to Agatha, while the studio pottery was built up by Agatha’s daughter Rosalind and her husband, Anthony Hicks.
These were objects that Agatha and her family lived with, objects with which they held strong emotional connections, defined by personal tastes and intimate relationships.
Other family collectibles
A diverse and fascinating array of pocket watches, snuff boxes and miniatures was probably collected by Rosalind.
These rare silk pictures were collected by the whole family. Woven on a Jacquard loom, they were made in Coventry during the 19th century.
Produced in the East Ayrshire town after which they are named, these souvenir wooden boxes were collected by Agatha.
Originally this brass-studded chest would have been used to store a women's dowry but was instead used by the family to store dressing-up clothes.