July 18 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, who passed away aged just 41, the author of six complete novels, having experienced only limited success during her lifetime. First editions of her works now attract considerable attention from “Janeites”, bookish types and literary collectors, and Peter Harrington Rare Books in London has several rare tomes available for Austen’s bicentenary.
“Jane Austen is the most desirable female author to collect, with Pride and Prejudice the most sought-after,” says Peter Harrington owner Pom Harrington. “Copies of first editions have gone up hugely in value over the past 20 years, with the 1995 Pride and Prejudice TV series starring Colin Firth introducing Austen to a whole new fanbase. Copies that sold for £10,000 in the mid-1990s now go for over £50,000.”
Peter Harrington has a first edition of Mansfield Park (£17,500), Austen’s third novel, published in three volumes in May 1814 and with only 1,250 copies printed. They did not bear Jane’s name, but rather were attributed to “the author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice”. The first edition of Sense and Sensibility also did not feature her name, but instead said merely “By a Lady”. Printed in 1811, it sold out by July 1813 and Austen made significant revisions for the second edition, which appeared in October 1813 (the title page was also changed to say “By the author of Pride and Prejudice”), and the shop has a copy for £12,500. There are also full sets of the novels from various dates.
Publisher Richard Bentley later bought the copyright to Austen’s works and published them in 1833 in one volume rather than three, reducing the price from a guinea and a half to six shillings. Harrington has a first Bentley edition of Sense and Sensibility at £3,000, and firsts of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion at £950 each.
Peter Harrington also has some charming original illustrations published in 1907-09 for Pride and Prejudice. Painted by the Brock brothers, who collected antique furniture and clothes so their friends could recreate the Regency look in their Cambridge studio, they feature quotes from the novel. “Is not this nice?” costs £2,750; “He was full of joy and attention” is £3,200, and there is also a collection of 23 signed illustrations (£60,000) for Emma.