MARIA EDGEWORTH COLLECTION FLIES ABOVE ESTIMATE


It is a rare event when a significant author’s original source material surfaces after two centuries.
But this is just what happened at The Cotswold Auction Company’s Books sale held in Cheltenham
on Tuesday 11 th February. Anglo-Irish author Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) was a prolific novelist
whose literary career started with Castle Rackrent (1800), a satire on Anglo-Irish landlords, of which
her father was one! Born in Oxfordshire Maria Edgeworth spent most of her childhood in England,
however her life in Ireland had a profound impact on both her thinking and views surrounding her
Irish culture. She was well educated and corresponded with members of the Lunar Society and also
developed strong views on politics. As she wrote in her work ‘Helen’ “Women are now so highly
cultivated and political subjects are at present of so much importance ... Helen ... you cannot, I
conceive, satisfy yourself with the common namby-pamby little Missy phrase “Ladies have nothing
to do with politics””.
A contemporary of Jane Austen and more famous in her time, Maria Edgeworth is now very highly
regarded and in particular attracts admirers in the UK, Ireland and America.
“It was from here that most of the seven or eight telephone lines were booked” said auctioneer
Lindsey Braune “We were absolutely inundated with interest prior to the auction, with private
viewings arranged for potential buyers, each lasting several hours at a time”.
The collection comprised much illuminating personal material including letters to and from her
publishers, letters to friends and acquaintances and, principally, a hugely important collection of
handwritten notebooks outlining plots, character sketches and notes for many of her well-known
works including Hints for Harry and Lucy – Professional Education, Absentee, 1812, The Snow
Woman, Ennui, Sketches for Popular Tales and Unfashionable Tales amongst many others.
Jenny Low, book cataloguer, was amazed and delighted to find these amongst various paperwork on
a visit to a Cotswold cottage. The owner had inherited these from her godfather, a member of the
Beaufort family and a direct descendant of Maria Edgeworth. Two years earlier Jenny had
catalogued and sold several Maria Edgeworth volumes with inscriptions for The Cotswold Auction
Company and she was delighted to be asked back to inspect more of the collection. It was divided
into several lots, all with conservative estimates. Lindsey Braune said “For such an unprecedented
sale we were expecting the estimates to be exceeded, but in the event the whole collection realised
a staggering £147,000”. The top price went to the star lot, the collection of notes and sketchbooks
for Maria’s novels, bearing various labels such as ‘Sketch of the Freeman family’, or ‘Notes on Emilie
De Coulanges’, “There is a lifetime of study in this little leather case of around 30 notebooks” said
Lindsey “and we are very pleased that it was bought on behalf of Princeton University and will
provide research material for generations of students to come”. This lot realised £70,000 after a
steady rise from the £4,000-£6,000 estimate.
Lot 40 comprised a wealth of material to and from Maria’s publishers Baldwin Cradock and many
signed by Rowland Hunter, with correspondence from 1814 to 1841. Again this illuminating lot flew
past its estimate and after a lengthy tussle between phone bidders found a buyer at £40,000. This
time the happy purchaser was another institution, The National Library of Ireland, who were strong
bidders throughout and obviously very keen to acquire material from this prolific Anglo-Irish author.
Letters were particularly popular and the American buyer was successful in acquiring a letter from
Edgeworth Town (where Maria eventually died) amongst others at £6,000, another lot of letters
dating from 1821 to 1835 at £6,800 and a third including a letter from the eminent early 19 th century
publisher Richard Bentley amongst others at £10,000.

In another lot of correspondence there were references to Maria Edgeworth’s last novel ‘Helen’
(1834), of which Maria wrote to her publisher that she had taken much trouble to avoid moralising
(!). This lot came under the hammer at £12,000.
“We are delighted that the Maria Edgeworth collection is destined for academic institutions and will
be in the public domain – providing invaluable source material for scholars and historians”
commented the auctioneers “This body of material is a direct line to the author’s creative process.”
The next Books and Collectables Sale to be held at Cheltenham Chapel Walk saleroom will take place
on Tuesday 2nd June and entries are now being accepted. For a pre-auction valuation please contact
the auctioneers on 01242-256363 and speak to books cataloguer Jenny Low ,
info@cotswoldauction.co.uk

To contact us, please email info@cotswoldauction.co.uk