Extremely Rare Presentation Copy of Jane Austen’s Emma and Austen Family China on the Block at Sotheby’s

As Jane Austen fans around the world celebrate her birthday on December 16th, one lucky (and very rich) Janeite will win an auction at Sotheby’s in London for an extremely rare presentation copy of Emma sent to author Maria Edgeworth from Austen’s publisher as a gift from the author after its publication on 23 December 1815. This is the second presentation copy to be offered at auction in as many years after Bonhams sold a copy given by Austen to her dear friend Anne Sharp for £180,000 setting a new auction record for a printed book by the British author. The new owner Jonkers Books resold the edition earlier this year to an undisclosed British collector for £325,000. Considering that the Edgeworth edition has remained in her family for close to two hundred years and is “unique in being the only known copy of Emma given by Jane Austen to a fellow writer,” the estimated price for volumes I and III (volume II is missing?) of £70,000-100,000 seems rather low. One assumes that the missing volume II is the diminishing factor.

Engraving of Maria Edgeworth from Evert A. Duyckinck’s A Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America, with Biographies ( Johnson, Fry and Co, 1872)

Austen admired Maria Edgeworth’s work greatly expressing her enthusiasm to her niece Anna Austen an aspiring novelist in 1814, “I have made up my mind to like no novels really, but Miss Edgeworth’s, yours & my own.” Unfortunately, Edgeworth’s esteem was not reciprocated. After reading Emma she wrote to her half-brother Charles Sneyd Edgeworth that “There was no story in it…” Julie at Austenonly has written an excellent account of Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth’s relationship, and her honest opinion of what many claim to be Austen finest work.

Also available in the same lot is a Wedgewood Dinner Set that has been on display at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton. It has been passed down in the Knight family since it was originally purchased in London by Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight in 1813. Jane actually assisted her brother and his daughter Fanny in making the selection. “We then went to Wedgwoods where my brother and Fanny chose a Dinner Set, I believe the pattern is a small Lozenge in purple, between Lines of narrow Gold; – and it is to have the Crest.” An estimate of £50,000-70,000 is in place. It is sad that the family needs to sell the china and a great loss to the museum. Maybe another benevolent Janeite will step forward and rescue it from speculators. It is a lovely set.

Both of the extremely rare items with an Austen association will be available in Sothebys sale of English Literature, History and Children’s Books & Illustrations in London on the 16th of December, 2010.

Photos: Sotheby’s.

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© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

4 thoughts on “Extremely Rare Presentation Copy of Jane Austen’s Emma and Austen Family China on the Block at Sotheby’s

  1. Wow,the provenance on that edition of Emma alone is worth any price(yes,I watch Antiques Roadshow quite a bit there) but sadly too rich for my blood:(

    The Wedgwood set is lovely,also. Hope it finds a good home!

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    • Hi Vic, yes it is the same china that was on display at the Jane Austen House Museum. My contact at the Chawton House Library confirmed that it is a Knight family member who is selling it. They are actually not the direct line. So sad that the museum will no longer have it to showcase. I guess we can hope that Chawton House will purchases it, but it is unlikely since they probably already passed. Maybe another museum or some benevolent benefactor who will give it back to the J A House Museum? When first editions go up for auction it is thrilling, but when items passed down in the family are sold, it is just disturbing to me.

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