Alfred Chester Beatty

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (7 February 1875 – 19 January 1968)[1] was an Irish-American mining magnate and millionaire, often called the "King of Copper". U.S.-born, he was naturalised British in 1933, and made an honorary citizen of Ireland in 1957. A collector of Oriental art and books, he bequeathed the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri to the British Museum[2] and the Chester Beatty Library to Dublin, Ireland. He founded the Chester Beatty Institute which was later renamed the Institute of Cancer Research.

Early life

Alfred Chester Beatty was born in New York City, the youngest of three sons. He attended Columbia University, graduating as a mining engineer[3] in 1898. He moved to Denver, Colorado where his first job in the mines earned him $2 per day as a 'mucker', clearing away rock and soil from mine tunnels.[4] He was promoted quickly, being named mine superintendent within a few months. He later served as the chief engineer for the Guggenheim Exploration Company.[5]n 1899 he decide to start his own consultancy firm. By 1900 he had relocated to the gold mines in Cripple Creek, Colorado, where he made the bulk of his fortune. He was often called the "King of Copper". In 1900 Beatty married Grace Rickard, with whom he had two children. By 1907, at the age of thirty-two, he was a millionaire as a director of several American mining companies.[6] When Grace died suddenly in 1911, Beatty moved to London with the children, establishing Selection Trust,a mining firm. In 1913 he married Edith Dunn of New York. Beatty became a naturalised British citizen in 1933.


Beatty began collecting early in his life. He recalled attending an auction with his father at the age of ten, and bidding 10 cents on a piece of pink calcite.[4] During his time in Denver he began collecting stamps, which grew into an award winning collection.[6] Later he began collecting Chinese snuff bottles, expanding into paintings and other artefacts. By the 1940s, he had built up a remarkable and impressive collection of Oriental art and books. He and Edith traveled to Egypt in 1914 and Asia in 1919, greatly expanding the collection. Though he did collect art, Beatty's passion was collecting books and manuscripts. His collection included French and English colour plate books, manuscripts from Persia and Europe, and Old Master prints.[7] In the 1920s he chanced on a collection of papyrus texts.

Initially Beatty was a competitive force in the burgeoning Orientalist art market of the early 20th century. The major library and museum institutions anticipated his presence when prospecting acquisitions. However, in 1925, Beatty began what would later become a robust partnership with the British Museum. Though in later cases he would purchase an object and simply donate it, for the manuscript now known as the Minto Album, Beatty amicably agreed to split the folios. The lot was sold to Sir Eric Maclagan, director of the British Museum as part of a joint-purchase agreement with Beatty for $3,950. Beatty had first pick of the folios, the museum bought the remainder for $2000, and Beatty charitably donated an additional folio.[5] The Beattys became patrons of the British Museum, donating 19 ancient Egyptian papyri to the Museum, including the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri and the Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus.[2]

At the start of World War II, Beatty moved the bulk of his collection to America for safe keeping, though he kept most of his books at his library in Kent. He supported the war effort,contributing a large amount of raw materials to the Allied war effort. He was later Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1954 Birthday Honours List.

Move to Dublin

By the late 1940s he had become disillusioned with Britain. Political deviations from his free-market values, coupled with increased foreign exchange restrictions impacted both his personal and collecting interests in Britain. Though he had initially envisioned deepening his relationship with the British Museum by donating his collection in its entirety (he had personally funded many of the museum acquisitions, and received expert consultations from the curators), he changed his mind when the new director insisted on deciding for himself if Beatty's collection met the museum's quality standards. The director also would not assure Beatty that his collection would remain intact, rather he would separate pieces out to different departments. With his son already established on his own estate in Ireland, Beatty relocated to Dublin in 1950, taking the bulk of his collection and his staff with him.[5] [8]He bought a large townhouse in the Ballsbridge area of Dublin. The Chester Beatty Library, which houses the collection, was built nearby on Shrewsbury Road, opening on 8 August 1953. The library was moved to its current location at Dublin Castle in 2000.[8]

Beatty spent the remainder of his life in Dublin. Beatty was made a Freeman of Dublin in 1954 and was the first person granted honorary citizenship of Ireland in 1957. Beatty died in Monte Carlo in Monaco in 1968; his Irish estate was valued at £7 million.[9] Upon his death on 19 January 1968, he was accorded a state funeral by the Irish government – one of the few private citizens in Irish history to receive such an honour. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


  1. Seanad 1985: "Chester Beatty died at the Princess Grace Clinic, Monte Carlo, on 19 January 1968, [...]" (some sources give this as 20 January).
  2. 1 2 Marry 2004.
  3. Charles Caldwell Hawley (2014). A Kennecott Story. The University of Utah Press. p. 28,42.
  4. 1 2 Horton, Charles (2003). Alfred Chester Beatty: From Miner to Bibliophile. Dublin: TownHouse. ISBN 1-86059-163-9.
  5. 1 2 3 Horton, Charles (2008). "Imperial Splendor: The Mughal Library from Sir Alfred Chester Beatty". In Wright, Elaine Julia. Muraqqa`: Imperial Mughal albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. Alexandra, VA: Art Services International. pp. 3–11. ISBN 0883971534.
  6. 1 2 "'It was all a great adventure'…Alfred Chester Beatty & the formation of his library". History Ireland. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  7. "Sir Alfred Chester Beatty" (PDF). Engineers Ireland. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  8. 1 2 Exhibition of rare treasures going on display at Chester Beatty Library, Thursday 10 July 2014.
  9. Oxford DNB article: Beatty, Sir (Alfred) Chester: Oxford DNB article: Beatty, Sir (Alfred) Chester, accessdate: October 10, 2016


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