Rare Austen first edition predicted to sell for $319,000

The popularity of Jane Austen's pellucid prose is well known, less commonplace however is this "one off" first edition of her 1815 novel, Emma, which is to be auctioned with a £200,000 ($319,000) high estimate by Sotheby's on December 12.

Austen Emma Auction Sotheby's
The three volume presentation copy of Jane Austen's Emma

Part social commentary, the narrative is centred around the daily life of an immature, aristocratic girl and her (often ill-conceived) matchmaking efforts.

The lot, which until now has been in the hands of a private collector, is thought to be the last surviving first edition from a very short print run of 12, reports the Daily Mail newspaper.

The elegantly bound and gilded novel exists in the form of a three volume presentation copy. The whereabouts of the other 11 printed copies remains unknown.

"It is not known what happened to the 11 other books and this is the only one of the 12 to come on the market before," Dr Phillip Errington, a specialist in English Literature at Sotheby's, told the publication. "Its rarity and the fact there is a direct link between the owner and the author gives it its value."

Austen gave the copy to Anne Sharp, who was the governess at the school attended by Austen's niece.

Jane Austen books and manuscripts have previously performed well at auction. In July last year, an original draft of her unfinished novel, The Watsons, sold for £1m ($1.6m) - triple its high estimate - while a single volume, first edition of Emma sold at Bonhams for £180,000 ($286,710) in 2008.  

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