A mere four years after Sense and Sensibility by “A Lady” was published, Jane Austen’s fourth and final book to be printed during her lifetime (1775-1817) was released. Jane Austen began writing her book, Emma on the 21st of January 1814 and finished it in March 29th 1815. The book was published by John Murray in the month of December of 1815. For the full chronology of her work please read our recent post, Jane Austen’s rare books. Emma is one of Austen’s rare books that have reached astronomical heights in price and value. Please read our article on rare books and factors affecting their value in our recent posting, Rare Books – what makes them rare for more details on that.
Emma is considered to be, by some, as Austen’s defining masterpiece and a book that is more English than most English books and certainly without dispute, one of her best. The first edition was published in three volumes and had only 2000 copies printed, 500 of which remained unsold four years after that. Today, depending on the book’s condition, a well preserved three volume set, averages 20,000 US dollars. The book meets most of the rare book attributes described in our Rare Books – what makes them rare article, including: importance, scarcity, imprint, age, author, subject, and physical properties.
Last but not least, the special attribute of association (presentation, dedication, author’s copy etc.), can have a tremendous effect on value, as demonstrated by the sale of two very special copies of the first edition of Emma, at recent auctions. The first, an association copy, that sold for about 125,000 USD and the other a presentation copy sold for an even higher price of around 490,000 USD! As expected an association copy provides a greater value than any other type of copy, all other things being equal, since it marks the connection between two important personalities – the author and a well known friend, associate, relative etc. Here is a brief definition of these terms followed by a more detailed description of these two copies:
The association copy: An association copy gains more value if associated with a famous person or a famous event. In this case a book was sent by Jane Austen to the famous Irish writer Maria Edgeworth. The book is signed by Edgeworth with the signature on the title page. The book is also unique in that it is the only copy sent by the writer to a fellow writer. It was put at auction by Edgeworth’s descendants. During the auction the asking price was 70-100K Euros and it was finally sold for 93,000 Euros ( 125,000 USD), six times more than the equivalent first edition copy without the association.
The presentation copy: A presentation copy is a copy signed and presented by the writer to a friend or any other associate or relative. When the book was published, 12 copies were signed by the writer and sent to various people. A presentation copy send to Anne Sharpe by the publisher of the book was sold at an auction in March 2010 for the extraordinary price of 490,000 USD. This is about 24 times the value of the ‘’ordinary’’ copy. It is the only presentation copy known to exist and this makes it even more unique and scarce.
In this article we attempted to demonstrate how the characteristics of rare books make them even rarer and more valuable than other copies of the same rare book, by means of the works of one of our favorite authors – Jane Austen. In the case of Emma the increase in price from the ordinary first edition of the 1815 release, to the association copy and then to the presentation copy was phenomenal. This is what makes the rare book world fascinating, intriguing and lucrative.