Emma: Jane Austen’s rare book

by AndreChevalier on November 29, 2011 · Rare Book Education, Rare English Literature

Emma by Jane AustenA mere four years after Sense and Sensibility by “A Lady was published, Jane Austen’s fourth and final book to be printed during her lifetime (1775-1817) was released.  Jane Austen began writing her book, Emma on the 21st of January 1814 and finished it in March 29th 1815. The book was published by John Murray in the month of December of 1815. For the full chronology of her work please read our recent post, Jane Austen’s rare books. Emma is one of Austen’s rare books that have reached astronomical heights in price and value. Please read our article on rare books and factors affecting their value in our recent posting, Rare Books – what makes them rare for more details on that.

Emma is considered to be, by some, as Austen’s defining masterpiece and a book that is more English than most English books and certainly without dispute, one of her best. The first edition was published in three volumes and had only 2000 copies printed, 500 of which remained unsold four years after that. Today, depending on the book’s condition, a well preserved three volume set, averages 20,000 US dollars. The book meets most of the rare book attributes described in our Rare Books – what makes them rare article, including: importance, scarcity, imprint, age, author, subject, and physical properties.

Last but not least, the special attribute of association (presentation, dedication, author’s copy etc.), can have a tremendous effect on value, as demonstrated by the sale of two very special copies of the first edition of Emma, at recent auctions. The first, an association copy, that sold for about 125,000 USD and the other a presentation copy sold for an even higher price of around 490,000 USD! As expected an association copy provides a greater value than any other type of copy, all other things being equal, since it marks the connection between two important personalities – the author and a well known friend, associate, relative etc. Here is a brief definition of these terms followed by a more detailed description of these two copies:

The association copy: An association copy gains more value if associated with a famous person or a famous event. In this case a book was sent by Jane Austen to the famous Irish writer Maria Edgeworth. The book is signed by Edgeworth with the signature on the title page. The book is also unique in that it is the only copy sent by the writer to a fellow writer. It was put at auction by Edgeworth’s descendants. During the auction the asking price was 70-100K Euros and it was finally sold for 93,000 Euros ( 125,000 USD), six times more than the equivalent  first edition copy without the association.

The presentation copy: A presentation copy is a copy signed and presented by the writer to a friend or any other associate or relative. When the book was published, 12 copies were signed by the writer and sent to various people. A presentation copy send to Anne Sharpe by the publisher of the book was sold at an auction in March 2010 for the extraordinary price of 490,000 USD. This is about 24 times the value of the ‘’ordinary’’ copy. It is the only presentation copy known to exist and this makes it even more unique and scarce.

In this article we attempted to demonstrate how the characteristics of rare books make them even rarer and more valuable than other copies of the same rare book, by means of the works of one of our favorite authors – Jane Austen.  In the case of Emma the increase in price from the ordinary first edition of the 1815 release, to the association copy and then to the presentation copy was phenomenal. This is what makes the rare book world fascinating, intriguing and lucrative.


About the author

Article by Andre Chevalier. You can connect with Andre Chevalier on Andre+

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard March 3, 2020 at 8:59 pm

I came across a book Emma by Jane Austen, it’s a blue hard back cover, wanted to see what the value is on the book


larry peters March 7, 2016 at 6:33 pm

I purchased a copy of Emma (Jane Austen) a few years back. I have searched online for information about this particular edition with no results. If you could shed some light I would appreciate it.
Here is the description:
Hardcover with dark red (leather?) binding and greenish marbling on front and back cover.
Publisher Derby and Jackson in 1857. The last 6 or 7 pages appear to be a list of the publisher’s catalog.


Glen Moreland March 24, 2017 at 8:14 pm

If it is an authentic 1857 version of Emma published by Derby and Jackson then Abebooks lists the similar book at $ 375.00 U.S in good minus condition..As you know with books condition means alot when determining value…If your book is in better condition then maybe $500 + can be expected……..the Jane Austen books from this year by this publisher are very rare and quite collectible….1857 Pride & Prejudice & Northanger Abbey , 1 copy $2000.00 U.S, Sense & Sensibility & Persuasion , 1 Copy $950.00 U.S,(I have this book) and Mansifield Park 2 copies $750.00 & $700.00 U.S…..you have a very good rare book there!


Julie Wallace September 7, 2015 at 2:32 am

I purchased a copy of “Emma” by Jane Austen at a used book store. The book is a hard cover, bound in a dark red to brown fabric with black floral scroll work on the corners of the front cover, but devoid of marbling, The spine has the title in gold leaf with the publisher’s (Porter & Coates) seal in black and gold. The cover page simply contains the title, author, list of authors famous works, and publisher information. There is no date indicative of its publication.

I know the firm, Porter & Coates, was only called this from 1867-1895. The man I purchased it from believed it to be late 19th to early 20th century, as it was discovered in the library at his mother-in-laws estate; who passed away some years ago at the age of 93.

Adding intrigue to the mystery is the signature on the front pages owning it to one George Hoadley, Jr. A man bearing the same name was the Governor of Ohio in the 1880s, not sure of any connection though.

All of the research I’ve done using rare book websites and the like, have yielded very little information. Any insight you could offer would be greatly appreciated. While I’m not looking to part with this book, I am rather interested in its value.

Thank you kindly.


Admin September 13, 2015 at 1:05 am

Grey Matter Books of Hadley, MA has a similar if not the same publication up for sale asking $200.


Sam February 25, 2015 at 10:08 pm

Hello, I have a Collins Clear type London and Glasgow copy of Emma by Jane Austen in a hard shell cover in green. It is definitely after 1817(as it mentions Austens death in that year) . All it says is that “Emma was first published in 1816”. there is an inscription from 1949 in it. Binding intact on book. Shell cover has a damaged joint and has BRITISH MADE inscribed into it. Could you offer any insight into its value? Thanks.


Colleen August 23, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Hello, I’m writing to inquire about value of three matching books I have. published NY, 1860 by Derby & Jackson.

1) Emma
2) Pride and Prejudice/Northanger Abby (in one volume)
3) Sense and Sensibility/Pursuasion (in one volume)

I’ve been unable to find these volumes anywhere online.

Thanks in advance,



Admin September 5, 2013 at 12:52 am

The house of Derby & Jackson of New York published more than three hundred titles between 1855 and 1861. Some of the Jane Austen works were published in 1857 as combined editions and are among the most valuable of the publisher’s titles valued at around $500.


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