Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2022 Issue

The $20 Million Honresfield Library Has Been Saved


Emily Brontë's manuscript poems (Sotheby's photo).

Britain's Honresfield Library has been saved. It took $20 million in donations to preserve the historic collection, but it will now belong to the British people, rather than being dispersed to private collectors around the world. It will remain in the country though spread out among eight institutions.


The library was formed by the Law brothers, especially William, in the late 19th century. Neither of the brothers ever married. They owned a woolen mill near Rochdale and lived together in a large but plain brick house known as Honresfield nearby. It was only 20 miles from the Brontë family homestead, so it is not surprising that the largest part of the collection relates to that family, especially sisters Charlotte, Anne and Emily. In their brief, star-crossed lives, they wrote some of Britain's most notable literature.


William Law died in 1901. The collection passed to his brother, Alfred Law. Alfred died in 1913, childless, the collection then being left to his nephew, Sir Alfred Law. Sir Alfred was financially well-off so he didn't need to sell off the collection. He did sell some of it but most of the library was held together.


Sir Alfred died in 1939. He too was childless. That is when the library disappeared from public view. It went to family descendants, but exactly whom and where was unknown to the outside world. For 80 years, other than a few select people, no one knew what had happened to the magnificent collection. It finally resurfaced in 2020 when Sotheby's announced they would be holding a three-part sale of the collection.


The first part was scheduled for July. That is when the Friends of the National Libraries asked to intervene. The Friends is a group devoted to preserving Britain's heritage, particularly as captured in its books and manuscripts. They asked if Sotheby's would postpone the sales long enough for them to raise the funds needed to purchase the library outright. Sotheby's, undoubtedly with the approval of the owners, consented to the delay. The price tag to buy the entire collection was £15 million, approximately $20 million in U.S. dollars.


That brings us to today's good news. The Friends of the National Libraries announced that they have raised a little over $20 million, the amount required to purchase the entire collection. They said contributions came from thousands of individual donors, trusts, foundations, and philanthropists. Among those was the Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation, with Prince Charles taking an active role in promoting the cause. A major gift came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, somewhat in excess of $5 million. However, the largest gift came from billionaire and said to be Britain's wealthiest citizen, Sir Leonard Blavatnik. With the goal halfway reached, he matched those funds, contributing the final $10 million needed to complete the purchase. The FNL said “It is an extraordinary donation, the largest ever given to the UK by an individual for a literary treasure.”


The lead item in the collection is a handwritten manuscript of Emily Brontë's poems. It contains pencil revisions by her sister Charlotte. Emily was the most withdrawn and shy of the sisters, not leaving much evidence of her life behind. That makes this manuscript particularly memorable. Emily published her first and only novel, Wuthering Heights, in 1847, but never saw its success as she died the following year. There are numerous other Brontë family items in the collection, along with material related to Jane Austen, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. The complete manuscript of Scott's Rob Roy is part of the collection.


The library is not going to one location. Rather, it will be divided among eight collecting institutions. They are: the British Library, the Brontë Parsonage Museum, the Brotherton Library, the Bodleian Library, Jane Austen’s House, the National Library of Scotland, Abbotsford: The Home of Walter Scott, and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.


While the specific members of the Law family who have held the library for the past 80 years were not identified, Sotheby's published a message on their behalf - “We are delighted that the Library is to remain in the UK and as the property of the nation with many of the books and manuscripts returning to their birthplaces for all to see and enjoy.”

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br> Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana<br>Online<br>Now through January 25, 2022</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Audubon, John James. The "Wild Turkey" manuscript — capturing one of the nation's most iconic symbols of unity. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> (Flag) — Commemorative Thirteen-Star Flag. Pre-Civil War, Thirteen-Star Flag of the United States, from the collection of Charles Kuralt. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Fitzgerald, F. Scott. <i>Tender is the Night</i>. First edition, presentation copy, and a former mystery. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Audubon, John James. The "Wild Turkey" manuscript — capturing one of the nation's most iconic symbols of unity. $250,000 to $350,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Salinger, J.D. <i>The Catcher in the Rye.</i> A strikingly fresh first edition of Salinger's essential novel. $20,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Whitman, Walt. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> “America's second Declaration of Independence” — signed by Whitman. $150,000 to $200,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> [Dylan, Bob]. Some of the earliest known professional portraits. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Now to Jan. 25:</b> Y-Worth [Yarworth], William. <i>Cerevisiarii Comes: Or, the New and True Art of Brewing…</i> A rare and early English work on the art of brewing. $5,000 to $7,000.
  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>A Record Breaking Season</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> <i>The Book of Mormon,</b> first edition, Palmyra, NY, 1830. Sold Sept. 30 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Vincent Van Gogh, <i>Homme à la Pipe: Portrait du Docteur Gachet, Evening,</i> etching, 1890. Sold Nov. 2 — $161,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edward Ruscha, <i>Stains,</i> title page, one of 70, signed, 1969. Sold Nov. 9 — $112,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> John James Audubon, <i>Carolina Parrot, Plate 26,</i> hand colored aquatint, 1828. Sold Dec.9 — $137,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Edmund Dulac, <i>The Snow Queen,</i> watercolor, gouache, pen & ink, 1910. Sold Dec. 16 — $125,000.
  • <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>February 26, 2022</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 26:</b> ALLEN, Ethan. <i>A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen’s Captivity from the Time of his Being Taken by the British, near Montreal…,</i> Rare second edition, 1779. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 26:</b> CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne ("Mark Twain"). <i>The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.</i> New York: Charles L. Webster and Company, 1885. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 26:</b> LANE, Edward William, translator. <i>Tales of a Thousand and One Nights; [or], The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.</i> London, 1838–1841. 32 parts in 33. $7,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 26:</b> GRANT, James, Lieut. <i>The Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery, performed in His Majesty's Vessel The Lady Nelson...</i> London, 1803. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Winter Fine Art, Antique, and Jewelry Auction<br>January 29 & 30, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> Civil War Archive, including Hospital CDVs. $2,400 to $2,800.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> W.B. Gosnell's Civil War Era 34 Star Flag w/ Book on Western Expansion. $1,200 to $1,400.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> 15 Star Parade Flag and Envelope, Framed. $800 to $900.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Winter Fine Art, Antique, and Jewelry Auction<br>January 29 & 30, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> Partial Civil War Album, incl. Confederate Leaders. $800 to $900.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> CDV Album incl. Garfield, plus Framed CSA Currency. $800 to $900.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> Two Geronimo Cabinet Cards, incl. St. Louis World's Fair Signed. $2,800 to $3,200.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Winter Fine Art, Antique, and Jewelry Auction<br>January 29 & 30, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> Dickens, Charles. <i>A Christmas Carol,</i> 1st Ed. 1843. $1,800 to $2,000.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> Archive of Col. John Fite, CSA, POW Johnson's Island, first of two lots, 8 Items. $1,200 to $1,400.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> Kentucky Confederate Call to Arms Broadside, 1862. $1,200 to $1,400.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Winter Fine Art, Antique, and Jewelry Auction<br>January 29 & 30, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. <i>For Whom the Bell Tolls,</i> 1st Ed. $1,000 to $1,200.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> Autograph Album with Confederate Signatures, incl. Jeff Davis. $800 to $1,000.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 29-30:</b> WWI Navy Posters plus Photo of USS John Hood, 3 pcs. $700 to $750.

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