The last of the two dozen miniature books made by the young Charlotte Brontë to remain in private hands, which resurfaced last month after nearly a century, will soon be heading home to the remote parsonage on the moors of northern England where it was made.
“A Book of Rhymes,” which contains 10 previously unpublished poems by the 13-year-old Brontë, was a star attraction over the weekend at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, where it was offered for $1.25 million. At the fair’s preview Thursday, a red dot indicating it had been sold appeared on the label inside the specially constructed display case, setting off speculations about the buyer.
On Monday, it was revealed that the buyer is the Friends of the National Libraries, a British charity, which is donating it to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire, home to one of the world’s largest collections of Brontë manuscripts.
Ann Dinsdale, the museum’s chief curator, said in a statement that she was “absolutely thrilled” by the turn of events.
“It is always emotional when an item belonging to the Brontë family is returned home, and this final little book coming back to the place where it was written after being thought lost is very special for us,” she said.
According to a news release, the book will be put on public display and also digitized, making poems that have been virtually unseen since they were written accessible to readers around the world.
The miniature books and magazines created by the young Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell Brontë in the 1820s have long been objects of fascination for ordinary people and deep-pocketed collectors alike. Initially created to entertain their toy soldiers (and sewn together from sugar packets, wallpaper scraps and other stray bits of paper), the tiny volumes reflected the rich imaginary world they created in the isolation of the family home, which fed into novels like Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre” and Emily’s “Wuthering Heights.”
“A Book of Rhymes,” a 15-page volume smaller than a playing card made in 1829, was last seen at auction in 1916 in New York, where it sold for $520. It then disappeared from view, its whereabouts — and even its survival — unknown.
The titles of the 10 poems inside had been listed in the 1857 biography of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell. But the poems themselves have never been published, photographed, transcribed or even summarized, making them what some scholars say are the last of her unread poems.
The news of its resurfacing sparked fears that the book might disappear into another private collection. Dealers James Cummins Booksellers and Maggs Bros., which were selling the book on behalf of an unidentified private collector, offered it first to the Friends of the National Libraries, giving it several weeks to raise the purchase price. (Funds were raised from more than nine donors, including the Garfield Weston Foundation and the T.S. Eliot Estate.)
The purchase is just the latest dramatic save by the group. Last year, it raised $20 million to preserve the Honresfield Library, a famous “lost” library of rare books and manuscripts relating to the Brontës, Robert Burns, Walter Scott and others, which had been set for dispersal at auction at Sotheby’s.
The items from that trove will be distributed to a number of libraries and museums, including the Brontë parsonage. The parsonage already owns nine miniature books by the children, which will soon be joined with seven more from the Honresfield Library, in addition to Charlotte’s “Book of Rhymes.”
At $1.25 million, the 3.8-by-2.5-inch “Book of Rhymes” is, inch for inch, “possibly the most valuable literary manuscript ever sold,” the news release boasted. And its literary quality?
On the reverse of the title page, Charlotte offered a modest disclaimer: “The following are attempts at rhyming of an inferior nature it must be acknowledged, but they are nevertheless my best.”