Scams in Austenland

Sense and Sensibility was the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be published. Released in 1811 by Thomas Egerton, Sense and Sensibility—along with three other novels during Austen’s short lifetime—was published anonymously.

Ostensibly London: T. Egerton, Whitehall, 1811.

This humorous first novel by “A Lady” had a higher-than-normal print run of 750 copies, and those sold out by 1813, prompting a reprint. The rights to Sense and Sensibility and Austen’s other novels were purchased in 1832 by a publisher named Richard Bentley, and these popular novels have remained in print ever since.

The first-edition title page pictured above resides in a beautiful three-volume set of books with agate marbled endpapers.

But this edition hides a secret. The first-edition title page hides a later edition of Sense and Sensibility; small differences in print production such as typeface or paper stock reveal the secret. At some point in the life of these books, a cunning dealer pasted in a title page from a first edition book to raise its value for collectors.

Here is a short video with Rosenbach director Derick Dreher, displaying this bibliographic mystery in the rare book library.

Speaking of Jane Austen, we are having another Reading Group to explore her work starting in February. Led by the indomitable Edward G. Pettit, this group will read Northanger Abbey, an early novel that was not published until after Austen’s death. It’s very funny and sharp-witted, paying homage to the gothic novels that Jane Austen read as a girl–the main character reads Udolpho, the quintessential gothic romance–while simultaneously poking fun at them.