A trove of Brontë family manuscripts that have been out of the public eye for a century will be auctioned by Sotheby’s as part of a sale largely devoted to 20th-century documents by literary giants. Highlights from the collection, known as the Honresfield Library, will be exhibited at Sotheby’s New York headquarters from June 5 to 9 before the works are auctioned across three sales scheduled to take place this year and in 2022. The first auction will be held online with bidding open from July 2 to July 13.
Assembled by British industrialists and brothers Alfred and William Law during the Victorian era, the Honresfield Library comprises more than 500 documents, from manuscripts and letters to first editions by writers like the Brontë sisters, Walter Scott, and Robert Burns. The Law brothers grew up near the Brontë family and acquired some of their manuscripts from literary dealer Thomas James Wise, who had purchased them from Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte Brontë’s husband.
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The brothers’ holdings became inaccessible to the public and academics alike after the death of their heir and nephew in 1939; it is now coming to auction from the Law family heirs.
In a statement, Gabriel Heaton, a Sotheby’s specialist focused on English literature and historical manuscripts, said, “The collection as a whole paints a unique portrait of the passions of one of the greatest and least-known collecting families from a golden age of book collecting.”
The top item in the entire collection is an edition of 31 handwritten poems by Emily Brontë from February 1844. Annotated with edits made by her sister Charlotte, the rare book carries an estimate of $1.3 million–$1.8 million.
Also coming to sale are first-edition copies of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey, all of them dating to 1847 and each valued at £200,000 ($283,000), as well as an signed letter by Charlotte Brontë to writer Julia Kavanagh. Five first editions of the Jane Austen novels, including Emma and Pride and Prejudice, and a copy of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, printed in 1620, will also be offered. (The auction house did not supply estimates for these books.)
The last time a major Brontë manuscript came to auction was in 2011, when a miniature handwritten magazine Charlotte made when she was a teenager sold to a Paris museum for £700,000, or $1.1 million, at Sotheby’s in London.