Created by Charlotte Brontë and her siblings as a child, miniature books have long been objects of admiration for fans and deep-pocketed collectors. Originally created to entertain their toy soldiers, the small volumes mirrored the rich imaginary world they created in the isolation of their family home in the countryside of northern England, which fueled novels such as Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre” and Emily’s “Wuthering Heights”.
Now, the last of more than two dozen models created by Charlotte to stay in private hands has appeared and will go on sale next month.
“A Book of Rhymes,” a 15-page volume smaller than a playing card, was last seen at auction in New York in 1916 and sold for $520 before disappearing, where its whereabouts—or even surviving—is unknown. It will hit theaters on April 21, its opening night. New York International Antiques Book Fair and, as it were, Brontë’s birthday. Asking price? A whopping $1.25 million.
The titles of 10 poems (including “The Beauty of Nature” and “On Seeing the Ruins of the Tower of Babel”) have long been known thanks to Charlotte Brontë’s transcribed 1857 biography of Brontë’s own poem, written by Elizabeth Gaskell. handwritten catalog his youth. But the poems themselves were never published, photographed, transcribed, or even summarized.
And they will remain so for a little longer, at least. One morning recently, Henry Wessells, a bookstore in Manhattan firm, James Cummins Bookstore (who sells the book in partnership with the London-based firm Maggs Bros.) was keen to display the small volume, provided its contents were not quoted or disclosed.
“The final recipient will be able to refer them to the publication, which will be a red letter day for the Brontë scholarship,” he said.
A 25-year veteran of the book trade, Wessells has accomplished many remarkable things over the years. archives New York Review of Books and A flag waving by TE Lawrence and the victorious Arab rebels at the Battle of Aqaba in 1917. However, the humble, hand-stitched deck of Brontë paper is a “career-in-a-lifetime item”.
It is exciting to be a part of the history of English literature as a link in the chain.” “There is also the joy of actually having it on my desk. The more you look at it, the more interesting it becomes.”
There have been a lot of dramatic red letter days in Brontë scholarship lately. Last year, a huge “lost” library of Brontë manuscripts and other literary works that had not been seen for nearly a century suddenly appeared and was put up for auction. After a backlash, the auction was delayed and the collection was cancelled. Purchased intact for $20 million By an unusual consortium of libraries and museums to be preserved for the British public.
And in 2019 the Brontë Parsonage Museum raised about $800,000 Purchasing a miniature magazine made by Charlotte that went up for auction after her French business venture went bankrupt.
The miniature microvolumes remained in the Brontë family until the 1890s, when they were circulated along with many other manuscripts and works after the death of Charlotte’s widow’s second wife. Today, all other small books made by Charlotte are in corporate collections, Including the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.
“The Book of Rhymes” (or “rhythms,” as Charlotte wrote on the title page) survived, being stored in a 19th-century schoolbook in a letter-size envelope, which she describes as an “American private collection,” Wessells said. ” (He declined to reveal more about the owner, citing a confidentiality agreement.)
In his office, he opened the envelope that read “Bronte manuscript” and read “most valuable” in the upper left corner. Then he pulled out the book folded into a copy of an old auction listing.
The book is, as Wessels says, “textured like a little string”, made of cheap, dull brown paper, cut irregularly and sewn with thread.
He turned to show the contents and showed the table of contents, with Charlotte explaining that the poems were attributed to two fictional authors in the fictional world, the “Marquis of Duro & Lord Charles Wellesley,” but were actually “written by me.”
He then flipped the title page over to read a disclaimer on the reverse: “The following are attempts at inferior rhyme, to be admitted, but they are still my best ones.”
Finally, he slowly turned the pages to get a dazzling look at the poems, reiterating that the content was off the record.
No worries there. The microscopic handwriting, intended to mimic the printed fonts of a “real” book, was impossible to read at a glance without a magnifying glass.
Some of the poems were long, some short, sometimes with strikethrough words and corrections, each of the poems dated and signed or written with the letters “CB”. It was considered “something fourteen lines”) but refused to offer any “literary consideration.”
Brontë expert Claire Harman, who also examined the manuscript in Wessells’ office, said she could decipher several fragments of what she called “the last unread poems of Charlotte Brontë,” and depending on the wishes of the buyer, she said. “They can stay like this.” (Wessells said future plans for the manuscript could be “a factor” in determining a “suitable buyer”.)
Despite Brontë’s disclaimer, she said the poems were “very appealing.” As for the handwriting, Brontë said, comparing her experience of reading miniature books with Alice growing and shrinking in “Alice in Wonderland”, “it’s like a mouse wrote it.”
“They’re like portals to a different world,” he said. “You go in and you come out the other way.”