Two works of fiction by women – one a world-famous novelist, the other much better known for her flower books – were the stand-out lots in a West Country sale.
In the September 4 auction held in Exeter by Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (23% buyer’s premium) a three-decker, 1813 first of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in worn but contemporary bindings of full calf gilt sold for a much higher than predicted £37,000, despite lacking half-titles in all three volumes and having a few other shortcomings of condition.
This was a book that needs no introduction, but The Mummy! a three-decker of 1827 by Jane Webb, was a real surprise package.
Published by Henry Colburn and sub-titled A Tale of the Twenty- Second Century, this was the second published work of someone who was then just 20 years old, but who three years earlier had a collection of her Prose and Verse published.
Webb’s tale, which includes what has been described as “a quasi-prophetic account of the steam plough”, impressed John Claudius Loudon. He gave it a good notice in one of the journals he then edited and sought a meeting with the work’s un-named author, who he had initially assumed to be a man. It took a while, but they did eventually meet – and within six months were married.
Loudon is most famous as a landscape gardener and horticultural writer, but he got into great financial difficulties with his printers and publishers. It was Jane’s series of enormously popular works on flowers and gardening, aimed primarily at women, that kept the bailiffs at bay.
Jane continued to produce such works for some years after her husband died in 1843. In the original but now very worn paper covered boards, on which only one of the spine labels is still more or less intact, The Mummy! was estimated at £200-300 but sold for £6800. No other copy is to be found in auction records.
More on this Exeter sale in a future issue.