The Brotherton Library at Leeds is part of a consortium to save one of the most important collections of manuscripts and books in the UK from returning into private ownership.
The Honresfield Library collection – which has been largely inaccessible for the last century and its contents rarely examined – was to be sold by Sotheby’s next month and likely to have returned into a private collection.
Friends of National Libraries (FNL), a charity dedicated to saving written and printed works for the nation, has this week launched an appeal to raise the purchase price of £15 million.
It is supported by the Brotherton Library and seven other libraries and organisations, including the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth.
The collection includes seven of Charlotte Brontë’s “little books”, a manuscript collection of poems by Anne Brontë, a group of Charlotte Brontë’s letters bound into a volume, and Emily Brontë’s holograph notebook of 31 poems, believed by many scholars to have been lost.
Jane Austen is represented by artefacts including a significant early letter in her own hand signed to her sister Cassandra, and first editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in their original condition.
The complete working manuscript of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, and an exceptional group of Scott first editions are also part of the collection.
Masud Khokhar, University Librarian and Keeper of the Brotherton Collection at Leeds, said: “It is our privilege at the Brotherton to own several works by the Brontës, including Charlotte Brontë’s French exercise books and a major collection of poems, drawings and letters by Branwell Brontë.
“Our aim is always to make our unique artefacts available to the public; to spark creativity and further knowledge.
“The Honresfield is a collection of international significance and we support FNL’s drive to benefit the widest possible public by giving ownership of each item to the appropriate national, regional and specialist institution.”
The vendors of the Honresfield and their representatives, Sotheby’s, have decided to postpone the auction of the first part of the library, originally announced for July.
Richard Ovenden OBE, Trustee of the FNL and Bodley’s Librarian at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford said: “Literature and the creative use of the English language and its dialects have been among the great contributions made by the people of these islands. Now is a time to act together, to preserve and share some of the greatest examples of this heritage.”
Charles Sebag-Montefiore, Trustee and Treasurer of FNL, said: “FNL is thrilled to be able to take the lead in saving the Honresfield Library. FNL is working with a consortium of institutional funders and individual philanthropists to raise the substantial funds need to secure this extraordinary collection for the benefit of everyone in the UK. This is a crucial national endeavour to raise enough funds to keep this unique treasure trove in Britain. This is cultural levelling up, as the items will be spread across the UK from Yorkshire to Edinburgh Oxford and London.”