Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Jane Austen Souvenirs, First Editions and Memorabilia

Jane Austen's popularity in recent years has led to a great demand for souvenirs and memorabilia. Huge sums are paid, even for early editions of her novels.

In December 2000, Sotheby’s sold a copy of the first edition of Pride and Prejudice at auction for £55,450.

But a new record for a first edition was set in 2008, when a presentation copy of the first edition of Emma was bought for £180,000 at auction. It was the copy Jane gave (though her publishers) to her friend Anne Sharp, the governess at her brother Edward's home in Godmersham, Kent.

But this is nothing compared with what Jane's own handwriting will fetch. What survives of the manuscript of Jane Austen's unfinished novel The Watsons was sold to 'an institution' by the auctioneers Sotheby's in London on 14 July 2011. It fetched almost a million pounds - £993,250 in fact. That was about 1.6 million US dollars at that day's rate.

The manuscript was not quite complete, as the first few pages had been sold separately long ago.

Typically, a first edition of Sense and Sensibility was sold in New York for 38,000 dollars in 2009.

Even in fairly poor condition, first editions of Jane Austen's novels fetch between £4000 and £8000.

In the Autumn of 2000, Joan Austen-Leigh, a great-great-great niece of Jane Austen, presented to the British Library the little writing box (or writing desk) once owned and cherished by Jane (and referred to in her letter of 24 October 1798).

You can see it in the British Library (near Euston Station) next time you are in London.
Joan Austen-Leigh – herself an active Canadian writer and journalist - was an important figure in twentieth-century scholarship concerning Jane Austen. She helped to found the Jane Austen Society of North America in 1979. It then had 100 members. By the time of her death in 2001, the Society had 3800 members.