Jane Austen: How do bindings affect value?
Adam Douglas, Senior Specialist at Peter Harrington, introduces a selection of Jane Austen’s first editions and explains how their bindings affect their value.
Jane Austen – Sense and Sensibility (Uncut first edition in the original publisher’s boards: estimated: value £100,000):
Jane Austen’s novels were originally published in three volumes, also called three-deckers, the idea being that you could borrow the books from a circulating library and read them one volume at a time. Publishers of the time favoured this, as they could be circulated to more readers that way.
The original bindings of Austen’s novels were very simple: a paper binding with paper-covered boards and a paper spine, usually with a little printed label on the spine as well. Sense and Sensibility was published simply as ‘A Novel By a Lady’. Author’s names rarely appeared on novels of this kind at that time as novels were not considered prestigious enough.
Booksellers now will describe a copy such as this as being ‘uncut in the original boards’. ‘Uncut’ refers to the page edges, which are untrimmed along the fore and lower edges, with the top edge folded over; when you bought the book, you’d get a small knife or a piece of horn and slide it along the crease to open the pages before reading.
For serious collectors of Austen, the ideal is to acquire first editions of her novels in these original bindings, the state they appeared in at the time of their publication. The boards are fragile, and in some cases were regarded as merely temporary bindings, which readers would replace with a leather binding to preserve the book as part of their personal library. For this reason, first editions of Austen in original boards are rare, and this adds to their value.
Jane Austen – Mansfield Park (First edition with contemporary binding with half-titles: estimated value £27,000):
A rebound first edition of Austen will typically be found with its edges trimmed straight, and might also have been decorated. This copy has speckled red edges. A typical binding of the period would be what is called half calf, where the spine and the corners of the bindings are leather – usually calf, but sometimes sheepskin which was a little cheaper. The sides would typically be covered in marbled paper, which was popular in the era.
Contemporary rebound first editions of Austen’s work (that is, those which appear in bindings roughly contemporary with the publication of the book) are valuable, though they can usually be obtained for less than a first edition in the original boards.
A key factor which affects the value of rebound first editions is whether they retain the original half-titles. A half-title is a single leaf on which is printed the title of the book, without the author’s name or any imprint details. This was included by the publisher to protect the full title page while the book was being bound. It often suffered damage and was removed by the binder in a rebound book. Its presence here increases the value of the book.
Jane Austen – Mansfield Park (First edition rebound without half-titles, estimated value: £13,500):
Here’s another copy of Mansfield Park, which has been entirely rebound to style. This is a modern binding intended to resemble a binding that would have been contemporary with the publishing of the book.
It’s a hand-crafted binding using the same techniques that would have been used at the time of publication, but naturally as a reproduction it has less value in today’s collectors market.