A turquoise and gold ring once owned by Jane Austen goes on the auction block on Tuesday, July 10 – and compared to an 1804 handwritten manuscript of her novel, “The Watsons,” the family heirloom could be a steal.
The ring with oval cabochon stone has been speculated to have been a gift to the author from either her Irish friend Tom Lefroy or her brother, Henry, and Sotheby’s guidance on it is between $30,000 and $60,000. By contrast, the auction house in July 2011 sold Austen’s heavily corrected manuscript for more than $1.5 million. (The Bodleian library at Oxford University was the winning bidder).
Still, bidders seeking a deal on the Austen ring shouldn’t get their hopes up too soon: “The Watsons” manuscript actually fetched more than double Sotheby’s $500,000 high side estimate – and a handwritten family letter accompanying Austen’s ring adds polish to the jewel’s appeal.
Austen’s ring is in fact being offered as part of an English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations auction, where copies of the “Shakespeare Fourth Folio,” Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” and Charles Darwin’s “On the “Origin of Species” are estimated at as much as $186,000. A first edition of Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” has been bestowed the same value as her ring.
People are drawn to the romance and beauty of literature, experts suggest. With Austen, Sotheby’s blog writer Gabriel Heaton suggests, many feel that her writing speaks to them and their lives. The turquoise ring is a reminder of the author’s own personal ties to the content. “I consulted the simplicity of your taste,” “Mansfield Park’s” Edmund tells his heroine cousin, Fanny Price, of a gold chain that he buys her.
Personal artifacts, Heaton suggests, help remove barriers between writer and reader. Austen left her jewelry, including the British size K 1/2 (US 5 ½) turquoise ring with sizing band, to her sister, Cassandra. The letter accompanying it is dated November 1863, some 46 years after the author died. It was written by Eleanor Austen, Jane’s sister-in-law, to her niece, Caroline Austen.
“. . . the enclosed ring once belonged to your Aunt Jane,” the letter reads. “It was given to me by your Aunt Cassandra as soon as she knew that I was engaged to your uncle. I bequeath it to you. God bless you!”