• Deborah Yaffe

Pricey, and priceless

It’s always nice to know that other people value Our Jane the way we do. Like, value her in dollars.


Last week, as blog readers will recall, Christie’s auctioned off an extraordinary rare book collection that included a set of Jane Austen first editions, among them a Mansfield Park once owned by the great American songwriter Jerome Kern.


Christie’s had estimated the sale prices for the books – three-volume sets of Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility, plus the four-volume edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion -- at $20,000 to $80,000 apiece. This turned out to be very, very wrong.


While the Northanger Abbey and Persuasion set sold for $50,000, the bottom of the pre-sale estimated range, the rest went for more. A lot more: $81,250 for Emma, $112,500 for P&P, $118,750 for S&S, and an impressive $275,000 for the Kern MP, whose pre-sale estimate had topped out at $80,000. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a total of $637,500 for the lot.


This isn’t the first time that Austen firsts have outperformed auctioneers’ estimates: Just last year a similar full set sold for more than $240,000, better than double the pre-sale projection.


Still, in the most recent sale, the honor of Most Impressive Bottom Line didn’t belong to Jane Austen – or, indeed, to William Shakespeare, even though one of his Second Folios sold for $400,000, well over the high estimate of $250,000.


No, the real star of the show was Mary Shelley: Some lucky, and well-heeled, bidder went home with a first edition of Frankenstein, after paying a jaw-dropping $1,170,000. In crass dollar terms, then, one Shelley is apparently worth nearly a dozen Austens. But who’s counting?

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