Beds, Herts & Bucks

Masquerade: Kit Williams' archive auctioned for £17,500

Masquerade book Image copyright Kit Williams
Image caption Masquerade became a "publishing phenomenon" when it came out in 1979

An archive revealing the workings behind a real-life treasure hunt book that became a global phenomenon has sold at auction for £17,500.

Artist Kit Williams' book Masquerade contained clues in paintings pointing the way to a golden hare buried in Ampthill Great Park in Bedfordshire.

Its publication in 1979 sparked an international search for the treasure.

The notes, sketches and designs for the book were expected to fetch up to £15,000 at Sotheby's in London.

Image caption Kit Williams with the golden hare that was the treasure hunt's prize

Philip Errington, from the auction house's books department, said the "absolutely unique" archive offered an insight into "a publishing phenomenon".

The collection included a 112-page book of sketches and notes, showing how Mr Williams devised the riddles that perplexed a worldwide audience for years, as well as more than 50 pages of preliminary drawings and a mint-condition first-edition copy of Masquerade.

Image copyright Sotheby's
Image caption The lot includes early sketches of the golden hare readers spent years trying to find

The paintings in the book contained a series of riddles and puzzles, which ultimately pointed towards the site of the buried treasure.

The search captured readers' imaginations, with airlines offering special transatlantic flights to the UK for treasure-hunters, and farmers putting up signs warning people not to dig on their land.

The puzzle was finally cracked, in 1982, by a pair of physics teachers.

However, the prize was controversially claimed by a man who had links to Mr Williams' ex-girlfriend - a result which, when revealed years later, left the artist feeling "conned".

Image copyright Sothebys
Image caption Fans of the book will recognise elements which ended up in the finished paintings
Image copyright Kit Williams
Image caption The finished paintings contained layers of hidden puzzles, clues and red herrings

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