Everything connected with Jane Austen has a certain magic. Readers today are so eager for a connection with this favorite 19th c author that early editions of her books (see here and here) bring astronomical sums at auction, and even improbable "portraits" become news.
There's no dispute over the latest piece of Jane Austen memorabilia to come to market, however. The ring, left, has never left Jane's family, being passed down from Jane to her sister Cassandra, and then through various Austen descendants to the present day. The ring has been so privately cherished that, as the auction catalogue notes, it has been "hitherto unknown to scholars." It's unlikely to remain unknown any longer. Set to be auctioned by Sotheby's on July 10, the pre-sale estimated price is £20,000-£30,000, and no one will be surprised if the final sale is for much more. UPDATE: The ring did in fact sell for more than the estimate - much, much more. The final hammer price was £152,450, or about $236,000. The buyer? You'd never predict who it was - click here for her identity.
The ring is simple and elegant. The stone is believed to be odontalite, a popular 19th c substitute for turquoise, and the setting is gold. Jane's taste in jewelry was understated, and in letters to her sister Cassandra, she notes a preference for pieces "neat and plain."Still in an early 19th c jeweler's box that may be the original ("T.West, Goldsmith, Ludgate Street, near St Paul's"), the ring is also accompanied by a descriptive note by Eleanor Austen, the third owner, and wife to Jane's brother Rev. Henry Thomas Austen. Provenance is everything in memorabilia, and this is as perfect as any collector could wish.
Many of my fellow-writers wear rings, often ones with a sentimental connection or historical story. Rings are jewelry that can be enjoyed by the wearer. There's an intimacy to them, wrapped tightly around the finger, that earrings or pins can never have. Looking at Jane's ring, I can imagine the gold band on her finger as she writes, her pen moving swiftly over the page. Or perhaps she's paused to search for the perfect word or phrase, her thumb absently rubbing over and over that smooth blue stone....
Above: A gold and gem set ring, once belonging to Jane Austen. Photo from Sotheby's.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.