BERKELEY, Calif. – A wistful and chatty letter from Charlotte Bronte to her editor headlines PBA Galleries’ next Rare Books & Manuscripts auction, which takes place Thursday, September 7. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Dated July 27, 1850, Bronte wrote the letter to the man whose firm, Smith, Elder, & Co., accepted the manuscripts for the debut novels of all three Bronte sisters, who had submitted them under the masculine pen names of Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell.
At the time she wrote the letter, Charlotte was the sole survivor of the three, having lost Emily and Anne to tuberculosis in 1848 and 1849, respectively, at the painfully young ages of 30 and 29. Also, by late July of 1850, the true identities of the Bronte sisters had been revealed.
Charlotte begins the three-page letter with a nod to the era when she and her sisters needed to masquerade in print as men, saying, “My dear Sir, The long and interesting letter you sent me reminded me of the old days – (they seem old days now) when you wrote to me as ‘Currer Bell Esq’…”
Within 54 lines, she speaks of a portrait she sat for and has yet to see, and shares an opinion on country living, stating, “where there is so little of human and social interest to give a lasting charm,” and goes on to say, “In Scotland, for instance, though the narrowness and prejudice of which you complain, may indeed be found, yet that stagnation of ideas, that insensibility to natural beauties, that extreme pettiness of feeling scarcely, I should think exist. I am bound, however, to confess that all these weeds grow rank enough in the cold, Moorish soil of the North of England….”
The letter, which is protected by a circa-1920s green leather folder that bears the armorial bookplate of Max Aitken, the first Lord Beaverbrook and publisher of the British tabloid The Daily Express, has an estimate of $40,000-$60,000.
Another standout lot in the September 7 sale lineup is an 1855 first edition, first issue of Walt Whitman’s immortal Leaves of Grass, offered with Whitman’s own copy of his famed 1860 photographic portrait, which he signed in ink. The lot carries an estimate of $120,000-$180,000.
Perhaps the prettiest author’s inscription to come to auction this year belongs to that on the first book in a complete set of first editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Estimated at $35,000-$45,000, Tolkien inscribed the book to Hal Coomer, with whom he had appeared on a radio program in 1958.
Also demanding mention is The Magic Volume! an 1840 book that might be unique. Dubbed a “blow book,” it features more than one hand-colored illustration of Queen Victoria as the Queen of Hearts. As the lot notes explain, “The book appears to change its contents depending on how the pages are flicked through, an effect achieved with different-sized tabs along the fore-edge.” Its estimate is $8,000-$12,000.