If you are thinking about getting out of the stock market and placing your money on a sure thing, consider bidding for this edition of six Jane Austen novels in 5 volumes at Bonhams. Set to be sold on June 8, with an estimate of £2,000 – 3,000, the value of this rare set is sure to go up during the auction and for many years thereafter. The description of the Standard Novels on Bonhams’ web site states:
[Works, Bentley’s Standard Novel edition], 6 vol. in 5, 5 engraved frontispieces and additional titles, some light spotting to first and final few leaves, small corner tear to printed title “Pride and Prejudice”, without half-titles, ownership inscription of Eularia E. Burnaby (1856) on printed titles, bookplate of Henry Vincent, bookseller’s label of H.M. Gilbert, Southampton, uniform contemporary half calf, red and dark green morocco labels, extremities lightly rubbed [Gilson D1-D5], 8vo, R. Bentley, 1833 – Bonhams Website
The Bentley editions are notable in that no English reissue of JA’s novels is known after 1818. In 1832, Richard Bentley, publisher, purchased the remaining copyrights to Jane’s novels. (An excellent description of how Henry and Cassandra Austen sold the copyright to Richard Bentley and how little money they received for relinquishing their rights to their sister’s novels can be found in Claire Harman’s Jane’s Fame.) Bentley published all of Austen’s completed novels in 1833 in five volume sets known as the Standard Novels. They came with illustrations that were significant for depicting scenes in early Victorian settings, not Regency settings. (One wonders how much the costume designers of the 1940 Pride and Prejudice film adaptations were influenced by these illustrations.) Bentley’s purchase marked a milestone, for from this time forward Jane Austen’s novels would always remain in print.
At the time of the Bentley reissues, Jane Austen was still regarded as a niche writer. Only a few hundred copies of her books were published and reprinted over the years. When Bentley’s copyrights expired, other printers began to publish her works, but book sales remained modest. Then came 1870. The publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen by J.E. Austen-Leigh, Jane’s nephew, sparked renewed interest in her novels. Bentley reprinted the novels as 21-5 in his Favorite Novels series (Sutherland, page 3),keeping Jane’s name in front of the public. Public demand for Jane’s novels continued to rise with the arrival of Bentley’s deluxe Steventon edition in six volumes in 1882. In 1884, Jane’s great nephew Lord Brabourne published the 2-volume set of Letters of Jane Austen. Combined with the previous publications and a largely favorable assessment of scholars and critics, Jane’s star was born. A second wave of popularity, whose crest we are still riding, surged after the Jane Austen film adaptations of the 1990’s. It is conjectured that interest in her novels, adaptations, and sequels has peaked, but the number of readers that continue to visit this blog (and other Jane Austen blogs) and to clamor for films based on her life and novels belie that belief .
About Bonhams LTD:
Bonhams is the world’s oldest and largest auction house still in British ownership. Thomas Dodd, an antique print dealer, and Walter Bonham, a book specialist, founded Bonhams in London in 1793. When the auction house was launched, it was one of several similar concerns in Georgian London. The firm handled antique objects as well as fine wines. Today Bonhams is considered on of the four major auction houses in England, along with Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips, and sales take place almost daily at the firm’s New Bond Street location in Mayfair, London. (Image at right: University of Notthingham.)
For a more detailed description of Eularia E. Burnaby, whose name is inscribed inside the printed titles of this Standard Novel Edition, read Laurel Ann’s post entitled, Hey Bonhams! That Bentley Edition of Jane Austen Novels is Worth More Than You Thought!