Jane Austen Inscribed Copy of Emma Sells for Record £375,000

An inscribed copy of a Jane Austen novel has become the most expensive of the author’s works ever sold after being bought for £375,000 and will go on public display in the UK for the first time.

The one-of-a-kind first edition of Emma, which includes a handwritten note signed “from the author,” is sold for the highest amount of any published work by the author.

After its American buyer requested it stay in the UK, the three-volume edition was placed at Chawton House, Hampshire, the former residence of the author’s brother, Edward, and the current centre for study on women’s literature.

Peter Harrington, the London rare book dealers, said it was the only presentation copy of an Austen novel with a written inscription known to exist. As was the custom, the book is inscribed by the publisher rather than Austen herself and was presented to her friend Anne Sharp, who was governess to Edward’s children.

Sharp acted as Austen’s confidante, supporter, and occasional critic. She was a member of the small group that Jane distributed her works around and kept notes on their reactions. Jane asked Anne to be “perfectly honest” in her evaluations of her works and took her opinions seriously, noting them in her logbook.

All three volumes also bear Anne Sharp’s ownership signature. Under the terms of Anne’s will, her books were bequeathed to Richard Withers of Liverpool and subsequently passed down through his family.

Jane Austen was allocated 12 special presentation copies of Emma by the publisher John Murray. Nine were sent to family members (including Jane herself), one to the librarian of the Prince Regent to whom the work was dedicated, one to Countess Morley at Saltram, and this one to Anne Sharp. An additional copy was bound at her expense in red Morocco gilt for the Prince Regent. This copy is still believed to reside at Windsor Castle, although it has never been publicly displayed.

“When we heard the book had been sold we were worried it was going to disappear to America,” said Emma Yandle, curator of Chawton House.

“We’re delighted such a significant work of Jane Austen’s will take its place amongst the literary treasures in our collection,” said Katie Childs, chief executive of Chawton House.

Early in the next year, Chawton House will display the book.