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British Group Raises $20 M To Acquire Rare Manuscript Collection

Friends of the National Libraries (FNL), a UK-based group, has raised $20.13 million (£15 million) to acquire a rare manuscript collection before the auction.

The Honresfield Library collection, as it is named, is a trove of documents and literature, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. It contains manuscripts and letters from famed literary figures like Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, and the Brontë sisters. The collection was built by Alfred and William Law, British industrialists in the Victorian era. The brother grew close to the Brontë family, and thus feature their works the most in their collection.

The Brontë Sisters

The collection went out of the public eye in the 1930s when the descendant in possession of the collection died. In May 2020, Sotheby’s announced that the heir of the Law family had contacted the auction house. The collection was supposed to be auctioned in three lots. However, the auction was halted when FNL contacted Sotheby’s and requested time to raise funds. Now, with $20 million in funds, the FNL has acquired the manuscript collection. This will allow the manuscripts to remain in the public sphere and accessible to scholars and literary enthusiasts alike.

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The top items in the collection include a version of 31 handwritten poems by Emily Brontë from 1844, annotated with edits by her sister Charlotte. Sotheby’s valued the book at $1.3 million–$1.8 million. Other valuable works include first-edition copies of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey (all dating to 1847). Collector and British arts patron Leonard Blavatnik contributed half the $20.1 million total raised by the museum group for the collection, which will be renamed the Blavatnik Honresfield Library in recognition of the gift. Another £4 million ($5.4 million) was donated by the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). Additional funds were given by the Prince of Wales Charitable Fund, the American Trust for the British Library, and David Cock foundations.