Collecting first-edition Jane Austen books

From Persuasion to Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen first-editions might be popular with collectors today, but this hasn't always been the case...

Jane Austen First Edition Books
Published: June 16th, 2022 at 10:19 am

You’re probably familiar with the story of Elizabeth Bennet and her tumultuous relationship with Mr Darcy, or perhaps it was Elinor and Marianne Dashwood’s coming of age story that had you gripped? There’s no denying that Jane Austen – and her six completed novels – has an enduring appeal, something proven by the appetite for adaptations of her books: the most recent being a reimagining of Persuasion, due to be released by Netflix in July.

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‘She wrote with wit and charm about life in the English landed gentry and clergy, creating well-drawn characters in the broad setting of love, romance and courtship,’ says Rupert Powell, International Head of Books at Forum Auctions. ‘Well-written stories and characters with whom a reader can empathise are the main reasons she has huge appeal.’

Jane Austen First Edition Books

But her work didn’t find immediate popularity. With several of her novels going through multiple editions, it’s no surprise her widespread success didn’t come until much later, most prominently in the 19th century. ‘The Prince Regent had a set of her books in each of his residences and as she became more widely-read, her works became more sought after by collectors’ explains Rupert.

Further success followed once her words reached America in the 19th and 20th century, as collectors began to stoke the market. ‘As her reputation as one of the giants of English literature was cemented, more and more collectors economised out of copies of her works.’


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First-edition copies of Austen’s work are few and far between. Particularly difficult to find are first editions of her earlier books due to the small numbers printed in the initial runs. ‘Her first published work Sense and Sensibility was published in either 750 or 1000 copies, it is believed, whereas Pride and Prejudice, published two years later in 1813, is thought to have had a print run of 1,500 copies’ says Rupert.

An author’s first book is usually the rarest as they are likely to have the smallest print run of first editions, but this isn’t the case where Austen’s books are concerned. ‘Whilst Sense and Sensibility might strictly speaking be rarer, it is still Pride and Prejudice that is the most desirable title in her canon of work and thus the one which commands the highest price. A set in a standard leather binding would make around £60,000-£80,000.’

Jane Austen First Edition Books

Even Austen’s lesser-known works still attract a decent price. First editions of her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published in 1817, can make between £6,000 and £8,000 at auction, and a copy of any of her novels in the original drab board binding can go for triple their leather-bound counterparts.

Their covers and bindings have a large impact of their sale price, explains Rupert: ‘They were originally published in drab boards (there were no dust jackets back then), but because these did not look particularly attractive, most copies were rebound in leather at the time. Copies in the original boards are the rarest and most sought after followed by copies in contemporary bindings, such as leather, followed by copies which have been rebound later.’


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Anyone looking to collect first editions by Jane Austen have a thorough search on their hands, but collectors deem her novels a worthy investment. ‘They certainly seem to have held their value, but I think the majority of collectors who buy first editions of her works do so because they appreciate and love the content more than for any potential monetary gain,’ says Rupert. ‘I think it fair to say that her books have been read and enjoyed by many generations and, seemingly, that popularity shows no sign at all of diminishing.’

Jane Austen First Edition Books

Where to buy first-edition Jane Austen books:

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Jane Austen’s completed novels in date order:

  • Sense and Sensibility (1811)
  • Pride and Prejudice (1813)
  • Mansfield Park (1814)
  • Emma (1815)
  • Persuasion (1817)
  • Northanger Abbey (1817)
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