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  • From Austen to Rowling - British female authors make good reading for investors
  • Post author
    Will Davison
  • AustenFromRowlingto

From Austen to Rowling - British female authors make good reading for investors

Mary Wollstonecraft (April 27, 1759 - September 10 1797) was a female author like no other. She was a novelist and philosopher but also a revolutionary.

Her 1792 work A Vindication of the Rights of Women was an extended essay directly arguing for the equality of men and women in society.

At that time, such an argument would have sent shockwaves through society, but today it is duly noted as laying the foundations of equality that today's society can enjoy.

The 18th century saw the advent of a new kind of female author in Western society. The gothic romantic novels of the time made way for new stories from the likes of Jane Austen and Wollstonecraft's famous daughter Mary Shelley.

Today, first editions of these books offer a unique combination of the literary and the historic to collectors.

And investing in these literary collectibles could see returns to match some of the best on the market.

For example, first edition books from Wollstonecraft have proven incredibly scarce at auction.

When they have emerged on the market, these pieces have exceeded expectation at sale, yet they remain at a relatively low entry level investment price.

Back in May 1993, one London based auction house held the sale of a first edition manuscript of Wollstonecraft's first novel Mary, a Fiction.

Written in 1788, the piece held historical significance as one of the first and most radical novels to be produced. 

The lot also carried a pre-auction target of £1,200 which was considered a high figure for a rare book at the time. 

The piece exceeded this with a final sale £6,050 ($9,508) - a massive 404% above the estimated price.

On today's market, this early novel could easily fetch four times as much, particularly when you see the continued clamour for early works from Wollstonecraft.

In 2005, New York hosted the sale of a first edition of her most famous work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with strictures on political and moral subjects.  

First published in 1792, this edition included the original blue board cover, yet carried a target price of just £975 ($1,500). Once again this was exceeded, with the book selling for £3,735 ($5,760) around 283% above the estimated price.

And yet this is only the beginning. An investment in early British female literature is one with unrivalled market longevity.

Simply put, the value of first editions relating to female literary icons is not going to disappear because like rare stamps they are underpinned by a huge collector base that understand their value.

You only have to look at Wollstonecraft's counterpart, Jane Austen to see the popularity and power of these early female works.  In her lifetime, Austen wrote a total of six novels and yet since her death there have been over 100 different adaptations of her work.

If viewed in this context, the historic value of collectible Jane Austen first editions coupled with their enduring popularity will ensure that prices for these early female literary works continue to rise.

The auction results for First editions of Austen's work over the last ten years also demonstrate the potential returns on an investment.

Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Back in December 2001, a three volume first edition of 'Sense and Sensibility' came up for auction with a target price of £16,000 ($25,000).

 The book sold for £52,000 ($80,000) in what was a world record price for a rare first edition Jane Austen novel.

Eight years later, New York was the setting once again for the sale of a rare 3 volume first edition Austen novel in December 2009.

This time it was the classic Emma, which was first published in 1816 and carried a pre auction estimate of £38,900 ($60,000).

The final sale price set a new world record of £67,740 ($104,500) for a first edition Jane Austen novel.

And these are prices being experienced across the board.

Wollstonecraft's daughter was Mary Shelley, who rose to fame for her novel Frankenstein in 1818.

The book was ground breaking in not only introducing the genres of horror and science fiction to mainstream audiences, but also for the female 18 year old Shelley's ability to authentically maintain a male narrative voice throughout the work.

In December 2004, a first edition of the novel sold for £74,000 ($114,000) - over 356% above the £16,000 ($25,000) pre-auction estimate.

In the same month, a first edition of Charlotte Bronte's similarly seminal novel Jane Eyre sold for £74,000 ($114,000) against a target price of £32,400 ($50,000).

Rowling's unpublished work

Whilst for those investors looking to an alternative long term investment, rare first editions from J K Rowling offer the best returns.

After all, there is no female writer, British or otherwise, to rival the fame and success of Rowling.

In the 2008 Sunday Times Newspaper rich list, the author's fortune was estimated at around £560m ($798m).

To date, the Harry Potter novels have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide.

And collectors have already begun to take an interest in rare Harry Potter books.

A signed first edition Harry Potter book sold for £15,500 ($23,900) against an estimate of £9,700 ($15,000) in February 2010.

Currently on the market, a signed copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is  valued at  £1,250 ($1,930).

Whilst for those collectors with a bigger budget, unique unpublished work from the most successful female author of all time is currently priced at £25,000 ($41,250).

Given the unrivalled global appeal of Rowling, a holding period of 10 - 30 years on an investment in rare Rowling books and first editions could see returns to match those of Austen, Shelley and Bronte.


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  • Post author
    Will Davison
  • AustenFromRowlingto