“Literary Property Changing Hands” ~ after the auction…

Ever wonder what happens to all those books and manuscripts that show up at auction and then disappear somewhere into the ether, briefly looked at wistfully in the catalogue and then only something you file away in your bibliographic memory chip??  I know I do this with all the Jane Austen materials  [see the post my Bygone Books blog for the latest Austen titles on the block ]

The recent Bloomsbury Auction, The Paula Peyraud Collections:  Samuel Johnson and Women Writers in Georgian Society [New York City, 6 May 2009] [click here for the catalogue and auction results] was of great interest to collectors and readers of 18th and early 19th century women writers.  A recent article by Dr. Maureen E. Mulvihill (Princeton Research Forum, Princeton, NJ), titled “Literary Property Changing Hands: The Peyraud Auction (New York City, 6 May 2009)”  [Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol 43, no. 1 (2009) pp. 151-63…..] sheds light on this world of auctions and book collecting, and tells us who bought many of the lots and where they are now to be found.   As Dr. Mulvihill writes, “the sale was a dramatic validation of continuing interest and commercial investment in cultural property of the Georgian period, especially its women writers.”  [p.152] 

The sale consisted of 483 lots, mostly books, manuscripts and letters, but also many visual works of art somehow relating to the authors Ms. Peyraud collected.  [The dominant figures in the collection were the women writers of the era:  Frances Burney, Hester Thrale Piozzi, the Bluestockings, Maria Edgeworth, Jane Austen and the Brontes; but also several male writers:  Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, Horace Walpole, and Lord Byron.]

The article also gives some history of Paula Peyraud [1947-2008] and the depth of her collection [the auction barely scratched the surface it seems…], and this alone is a compelling  story of the habits of a woman collector.

My interest here is largely with the Jane Austen lots in the auction [see my post on this auction here], and unfortunately, although the results of the auction are available online [see below as well as my previous post], the five lots of Austen works seem to have been purchased by private collectors and are undisclosed.  And the one Austen-related piece of art, a miniature of Elizabeth Bridges, Austen’s sister-in-law, remained unsold.   

[title, estimate, price realized]

  • Emma-1816- 3 volumes: [$8,000-12,000] – $9500.
  • Mansfield Park-1814- 3 volumes: [$7,000-10,000] – $7500.
  • Northanger Abbey-1818- 4 volumes: [$5,0008,000 ]-   $5500.
  • Pride and Prejudice-1813- 3 volumes Carysfort copy: [$20,000-30,000] – $26,000.
  • Sense and Sensibility-1811- 3 volumes: [$25,000-35,000] – $38,000. [or $46,360. with premium]

Austen aside, it is fascinating to see how many of the other lots are now in Library collections, and thus available for research purposes:  The British Library, Dr. Johnson’s House, the University of Manchester, McGill University [10 lots of Frances Burney materials], the Houghton Library at Harvard [Johnson and Hester Thrale], the Morgan Library, New York Public Library, the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book Library, Princeton University [Maria Edgeworth], Vassar Library [Burney], and Yale University Beinecke Library [Yale acquired the “star of the show” for $140,300. – 8 volumes of Hester Thrale Piozzi’s heavily annotated copy of The Spectator.]  Harvard purchased the most lots, and a Zoffany full-length portrait of Hester Thrale [lot 379] was the second highest sale at $58,560.

[from the Bloomsbury Auction Catalogue]


 See the full article at this link at Bloomsbury Auctions: [prices in the article reflect hammer prices and premium]


Just added:  Dr. Mulvihill’s February 2010 article “Captured by Jane” on the Morgan Library’s Jane Austen exhibition is in the online magazine of the Jane Austen Centre.  If you did not get to see this wonderful exhibition last year, this is the next best thing to being there… you can view the article here.

[Posted by Deb]

4 thoughts on ““Literary Property Changing Hands” ~ after the auction…

  1. Oh Deb, my heart was pounding when I read the article. What an incredible story to have collected so much and have shown it to so few. She was indeed a “dark horse.”

    I have mixed feelings about the sale.

    1.) I wish that she had bequeathed many of the items to the libraries and museums of her choice instead of her heirs. It seems out of character that she did not choose this way of assuring that her life’s work would not be dispersed at random, some disappearing into private hands and not accessible to the public or scholars.

    2.) On the positive side, what an incredible collection that was documented by the Bloomsbury sale. I have visited their website after you first wrote about it, and what a treasure trove.

    3.) There is a book beckoning to be written on her collecting and why she chose what she did.

    Lastly, I am amazed that Christies turned the auction down. If this collection was not fine enough for them, what is?

    Thanks for sharing. LA


  2. Hello Laurel Ann – thanks for your thoughts! – it is a fabulous article isn’t it? I did not post much on Ms. Peyraud, just gave a taste, as I wanted people to go to the article and read for themselves – I will likely do a separate post on her on my Bygone Books blog – indeed there is little known about her, and I agree with you that there is an intriguing story in the making.

    I also agree that she might have donated her books to the libraries and museums – but perhaps leaving everything to her family was her way of paying them back for all the years of living with them and using their funds to feed her collection purchases. She did die of lung cancer, so it was likely fairly quick and perhaps no time to plan for gifting anything. What is sad is to see that she never shared any of this part of her life with any of her co-workers or friends -a “dark lady” indeed.

    And yes, Bloomsbury has done a fabulous job of documenting the items – I do wonder what will become of all that remains – a collection of over half a million printed books and over 100 paintings – this auction was only a small selection! The catalogue is definitely worth purchasing, just for the pictures alone…

    It is interesting about Christies and Sotheby’s – perhaps they thought that all this “women’s work” was not going to sell well in today’s market, that women’s studies is a thing of the past- a wake-up call for all, I think, don’t you?!

    Thank you, as always Laurel Ann, for your thoughtful comments!


  3. Thanks for an informative post! Whenever I see Jane’s work fetching those huge sums, I lament that the author herself had lived and died poor. Nevertheless, I’m glad that she’s getting the recognition she so deserved, even though she had not lived to see it.


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