Rare first editions of Jane Austen's novels could sell for £100k

The books were bought for around £5,000 in the 1970s and 1980s

A set of five first-edition Jane Austen novels could sell for more than £100,000 when they are sold at auction.

The books were bought by a UK-based private collector in the 1970s and 1980s for a total of around £5,000.

They are now due to be sold at auction in Gloucestershire on 15 December by the daughter of the collector.

Chris Albury, auctioneer and senior valuer at Dominic Winter Auctions, said: “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 cheque that night.

“He wisely in a long-term investment sense said no.

“She was a great fan of Jane Austen but 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.

“We estimate she would have paid no more than £5,000 for all of these back then and are now expected to fetch over £100,000.

“The daughter has had these for many years now and has decided to sell them through auction and let others get the pleasure from them and use the money for new projects and plans.”

The rarest of the five books is Sense and Sensibility, as less than 1,000 were printed when it was first published anonymously in 1811.

Also being sold is a copy of Pride and Prejudice, which was published two years later in an edition of approximately 1,500 copies.

Mansfield Park was released the following year and in 1816 Emma was published – each in editions of 1,250 copies.

Finally, a year after Austen’s death in 1817, Northanger Abbey [and] Persuasion in a run of 1,750 copies.

The books could fetch more than £100,000

“The first four were published in triple decker format, three-volume sets that became standard practice for novels put out by British publishers in the 19th Century – cleverly forcing the new breed of fiction readers to pay for each novel three times,” Mr Albury said.

“Even so, all five works fit comfortably on one shelf meaning shelf space is not going to be an issue even for the most minimalist of modern book collectors.

“The most desirable copies are those in original board. These are uncommon and can be fragile and it was more usual for books to be bound up in full or half leather bindings.

“When this was done it was not uncommon for the bookbinder to discard ‘unnecessary’ half-title pages and blank pages at the front and rear.

“The copies of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice are both in near-contemporary calf gilt bindings and, fortuitously the binders of the day retained all the half-titles and blank leaves in both copies, so are very high-grade copies.

The books will be sold at auction in Gloucestershire on 15 December. Credit: Dominic Winter Auctioneers

“The only ones that would be better are ones in original boards.”

Mr Albury said first copies of Pride and Prejudice was the most sought after by collectors, while Sense and Sensibility was valuable because of its rarity.

“Of course, it all comes down to condition, provenance and the market on the day so we will have to wait and see how things turn out,” he said.

“Besides expected enquiries from transatlantic bookdealers we have interest from seasoned Austen collectors looking to fill in gaps in their collections, or looking to upgrade to better copies, as well as from neophyte Austen collectors tempted into a market they see as combining a love of Jane Austen with an investment opportunity.

“And for Janeites with more modest budgets there are plenty of Jane Austen lots from other vendors to suit most pockets.”