Rare Presentation of Copy of Jane Austen’s Emma Commands £325,000

Jonkers Rare Books, of Hart Street, Henley-on-Thames has announced today that an undisclosed British collector has paid £325,000 for the rare first edition presentation copy of Jane Austen’s novel Emma once owned by her dear friend Anne Sharp. Jonkers has owned the three volume set since June 2008 when it outbid all other participants at Bonham’s Auction House in London. The £180,000 sales price set a new auction record for a printed book by the British author. 

Bookshop director Christiaan Jokers revealed some amazing facts in his statement to the Henley Standard regarding the copy of Emma that I find quite debatable. 

“The important thing is the signature of Jane Austen to her best friend. That’s what moves it from being a £20,000 book to a £300,000 book.” 

“The fact that it is the only presentation copy is also really something.” 

When the copy was presented for sale in 2008, Bonham’s researched the history of its provenance and the hand writing prior to listing for auction. Since this was a presentation copy sent directly to Anne Sharpe from Jane Austen’s publisher John Murray, Bonham’s did not believe that the inscription was Jane Austen’s but had been written by her publisher before it was sent to Anne. I also doubt that it is the only known remaining presentation copy of Emma. Out of the twelve copies sent, nine went to her family and one to the Prince Regent. There must be another one still in the family or in the Royal library. 

Come what may, I am quite pleased that the sale was to a British collector and hope that it was to a museum or a certain millionairess in Chawton who will exhibit it to the public. 

  • Read my original post regarding the history of Anne Sharp’s presentation copy and her relationship with Jane Austen.

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Jane Austen’s Dearest Friendship with Miss Sharp Still Resonates Today

You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure. – But the Providence of God has restored me – & may I be more fit to appear before him when I am summoned, than I sh’d have been now! – Sick or Well, beleive me ever your attached friend. J. Austen Letter to Anne Sharp, 22 May 1817

Image of three volumes first edition of Emma, presented to Ann SharpJaneites with deep pockets and warm hearts will be winging their way to London for the June 24th auction of a first edition of Emma being offered at Bonham’s Auction House. The rare three volume presentation copy of Jane Austen’s fourth and final novel to be published in her lifetime was a gift from the authoress to Anne Sharp, a dear friend and previous governess to her brother Edward Austen Knight’s daughter Fanny at Godmersham, Kent.

Bonham’s online catalogue description contains some interesting facts.

Jane Austen was allocated twelve presentation copies by the publisher John Murray. Of these, nine were sent to family members (including Jane herself), one to the librarian of the Prince Regent (to whom the work was dedicated), and one to Countess Morley, these last under obligation from the publisher. The present copy is the only one given to a personal friend, testament to the strength of Jane’s feelings for Anne.

First editions of Jane Austen’s novels can garner healthy prices. A November 2007 article in Antiquarian Books listed a recent sale of a three volume set of Sense and Sensibility by Bloomsbury Auctions in New York for $48,000.00. (1) Because the ‘Anne Sharp’ edition of Emma has unique provenance, and no known presentation copies of Emma have ever hit the market before, Bonham’s is anticipating a sale price between £50,000 to £70,000. This could be quite a windfall for its present UK owner who had the volumes shelved in their family library for three generations without a clue as to how their ancestors acquired them. One wonders what else they have loitering about, and why they chose this moment to dispose of them!

Illustration of Godmersham Park, Kent, England

Godmersham Park, Kent, home of the Edward Austen Knight family circa 1804

Anne Sharp served as governess to Fanny Knight (1793-1882) Jane Austen’s niece, at Godmersham from 1804 to 1806, resigning for health reasons. (2) She is mentioned fondly several times in Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra and in this wonderful passage from Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen.  Continue reading