Sir Paul Getty’s library to live on as part of a charitable foundation

The American-born benefactor bought rare books and manuscripts for over 20 years


Sir Paul Getty’s library at Wormsley is expected to pass to a charitable foundation, rather than remain in private ownership. The Art Newspaper has established that a trust, known as the Wormsley Foundation, was registered with the Charity Commission in 1992. Its aims include “the preservation of historic and rare books and manuscripts” and “the encouragement of access to aid the promotion of study into such books and manuscripts”. Trustees, in addition to Sir Paul, included his companion (and wife since 1994) Victoria Holdsworth, antiques dealer and friend Christopher Gibbs and lawyer Vanni Treves. In the last financial year, the foundation’s income was a nominal £6 (based on an initial capital of £100), and this suggests that it is a dormant trust which may well now come into play.

Sir Paul, who died on 17 April at the age of 70, was one of the world’s greatest collectors of rare books and manuscripts. In 1984 he bought a country estate at Wormsley, in Buckinghamshire, and then set about building an extension to serve as a library. His collection ranged from a fragment of what is probably the earliest surviving English manuscript (AD 640) to late 20th-century bindings. Treasures include Caxton’s 1486 edition of “The Canterbury Tales”, the Byland Bede of 1160, Boccaccio’s “De casibus virorum illustrium”, Anne Boleyn’s Psalter and the Ottobeuren Gradual.

Only a month before his death, Sir Paul made his final acquisition: a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays from Oxford’s Oriel College, for around £3.5 million, which he was able to add to the second, third and fourth folios, which were already at Wormsley.

The full extent of the Wormsley library is not publicly known, but it could well be worth over £50 million. Sir Paul is known to have wanted his collection kept together and for there to be scholarly access—and ultimately for it to be accessible to a wider public. Highlights of the collection were exhibited at New York’s Morgan Library in 1999, but not yet in Britain.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Sir Paul Getty’s library to live on'