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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Father knows best

Although Jane Austen’s novels never commanded huge print runs – the biggest, for Emma, totaled only two thousand copies -- Austen first editions seem to come up for auction fairly regularly.

Back in 2020, a single buyer paid a total of more than $240,000 for first editions of all six novels. A 2021 auction scored even higher prices, as first editions of the Big Six -- including the copy of Mansfield Park owned by American composer Jerome Kern -- brought in $637,500.

Last week added another chapter to this story, with a complete set of first editions of the six novels – three-volume editions of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, plus a four-volume combined edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasionselling at auction to four different buyers. Prices for individual novels ranged from £92,000 (about $112,050) for P&P to £6,400 (about $7,800) for NA/P; the total for all six novels amounted to £181,600 (about $220,000).

The most recent sale came with a charming back story: According to Chris Albury of UK auction house Dominic Winter Auctioneers, the seller is the daughter of an Austen fan who originally acquired her first editions for a total of perhaps £5,000 (about $6,000). “These were the only rare books she ever bought, and they would be brought out every now and then, treated carefully by the family, and then put back in the bookcase,” Albury told a news website.

“The current owner remembers her mother being particularly anxious one time after she had bought one of the books for £2,000 and told her husband to cancel the check that night,” Albury added. “He – wisely, in a long-term investment sense -- said no.”


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