A Lost Brontë Family Library is Up for Grabs in a Sotheby’s Auction

A museum worker wearing white gloves holding a magnifying glass inspects a manuscript or book
Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s will soon be auctioning off a private collection of approximately 500 literary pieces from famed British authors like the Brontë sisters—Emily, Anne, and Charlotte—and bard Robert Burns. The collection includes items like handwritten manuscripts, first edition books, and more.

The contents of the collection, known as the Honresfield Library collection, will be sold off across three separate auctions set for this July. It was assembled by two Victorian industrialists, who lived fairly close to the Brontë family home, but it disappeared from the public eye in the 1930s. The collection contains a wide variety of largely unseen 18th and 19th century books, letters, and manuscripts, and it is now available to the highest bidder more than 150 years after the Brontë sisters’ lifetimes.

Highlights include a handwritten manuscript of 31 of Emily Brontë’s poems (which has notes penciled into the margins from Charlotte), Robert Burns’ First Commonplace Book, the manuscript of Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, first editions of Anne’s Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, and a heavily-annotated copy of Bewick’s History of British Birds which Charlotte features in the opening scenes of Jane Eyre).

Sotheby’s values Anne Brontë’s two books at around $280,000 to $425,000 for the pair, while the collection of Emily’s poems is expected to sell for anywhere from $1.3 to $1.8 million.

Museum worker with white gloves holding up copies of Bewick's "History of British Birds"
Sotheby’s

Gabriel Heaton, a specialist in English literature and historical manuscripts at Sotheby’s said the Honresfield Library is the finest collection he had seen in 20 years, and that “The lives of these sisters is just extraordinary. Takes you right back to the incredible moment where you had these siblings scribbling away in the parsonage.”

While the reappearance of the collection is exciting, not everyone is happy with the news of it being auctioned off. The Brontë Parsonage Museum made a statement saying, “The Society believes that the rightful home for these unique and extraordinary manuscripts, unseen for a hundred years, is at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, where they can be enjoyed by visitors, explored by scholars and shared with Brontë enthusiasts around the world for generations to come. Regrettably, we are faced with the very real possibility that this immensely significant collection will be dispersed and disappear into private collections across the globe.”

Wherever the collection ends up, it’s a magnificent discovery for fans of the Brontë sisters and antiquarians alike.

via Smithsonian Magazine

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