Sotheby’s sale is put on hold to give campaign a chance to raise £15m for literary treasure trove
A Sotheby’s auction of literary treasures – including handwritten poems by Emily Bronte with revisions by sister Charlotte – has been dramatically halted to save the collection for the nation.
Lost to the public for decades, the £15million collection features 500 first editions, letters and manuscripts.
Among them are the poems by Emily Bronte, which had been expected to fetch up to £1.2million at auction next month. First editions of Wuthering Heights, of Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre and of Agnes Grey, by their sister Anne, had been expected to fetch a combined total of between £200,000 and £300,000.
And Sir Walter Scott’s original manuscript for Rob Roy, as well as a manuscript by Robert Burns, First Commonplace Book, compiled when he was a relatively unknown poet between 1783 and 1785 were also due to be sold.
A Sotheby’s auction of literary treasures – including handwritten poems by Emily Bronte with revisions by sister Charlotte – has been dramatically halted to save the collection for the nation. Pictured: The Bronte sisters: From left, Emily, Charlotte and Anne
Exquisite: Birthday notes by Emily and Anne Bronte with sketches by Emily
But the auction house has now agreed to postpone the auctions to give Friends of the National Libraries (FNL) charity the chance to raise the £15million necessary to keep the Honresfield Library collection together and stop it disappearing from public view.
A private library of English literature of such significance has not been placed on the open market for many decades and is unlikely to appear again.
The charity, the only one in the UK that focuses on saving written and printed heritage, hopes the collection can be shared across Britain. If successful, FNL says it would pass ownership of each item to the appropriate national, regional and specialist institution to ensure the widest possible public benefit.
The Honresfield collection has been largely inaccessible for the last 80 years, its contents examined only by a few trusted scholars. FNL’s ambitious bid is the first national arts appeal of its kind.
Lost to the public for decades, the £15million collection features 500 first editions, letters and manuscripts. Pictured: Jane Austen
Among the collection which was set to be auctioned is Jane Austen’s first edition of her novel ‘Emma’
The Bronte collection was sold to book collector and forger Thomas James Wise by Charlotte’s widower Arthur Bell Nicholls in 1895 and was later sold to Victorian industrialists Alfred and William Law. The Law brothers put together a library at their home, Honresfield House near Rochdale. It was just a few miles from Howarth, the former home of the Brontes.
After they died, the library passed to William’s nephew, but its treasures disappeared from public view.
The FNL’s fundraising efforts are being backed by the British Library, the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford, the Bronte Parsonage Museum in West Yorkshire, Jane Austen’s House in Hampshire, and The National Trust for Scotland.
Unique: Sir Walter Scott’s manuscript for Rob Roy was also due to be sold in the auction
John Scally, trustee of the FNL and chief executive of the National Library of Scotland, said: ‘Once in a generation, a collection of books and manuscripts appears from almost nowhere that is met with a mixture of awe and stunned silence, followed by concerted action to bring it into public ownership.
‘The UK-wide consortium is determined to raise the funds to ensure we can save the Honresfield Library for everyone.’
Richard Ovenden, trustee of the FNL and Bodley’s Librarian at the Bodleian Libraries, said: ‘Literature and the creative use of the English language and its dialects have been among the great contributions made by the people of these islands.
‘Now is a time to act together, to preserve and share some of the greatest examples of this heritage.’
Charles Sebag-Montefiore, trustee and treasurer of FNL, said: ‘FNL is thrilled to be able to take the lead in saving the Honresfield Library. FNL is working with a consortium of institutional funders and individual philanthropists to raise the substantial funds need to secure this extraordinary collection for the benefit of everyone in the UK.
‘This is a crucial national endeavour to raise enough funds to keep this unique treasure trove in Britain. This is cultural levelling up, as the items will be spread across the UK from Yorkshire to Edinburgh, Oxford and London.’