Entertainment & Arts

Rare Jane Austen manuscript sells for £993,250

There was a very real possibility of Jane Austen's rare manuscript being sold to a foreign buyer who might well have then taken it abroad.

And because the manuscript had been in Britain for less the 50 years there would have been no recourse to the Export Licensing Committee to stop that from happening.

I was in the auction room watching the tense sales process take place.

By the time it had come down to a two-horse race we were left with one bidder in the room and one on the telephone.

The Sotheby's member of staff on the telephone was not speaking English. But it was the man in the room who won when the hammer came down on his bid of £850,000 (£993,250 after sales tax).

When asked on whose behalf he had bought the manuscript all he would reply was "an institution".

That could quite easily have been the Morgan Library in New York which already owns an eight-page element of the manuscript.

But as I found out, it was in fact The Bodelian Libraries in Oxford who acquired the unfinished novel, with the help of a substantial grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (£894,700).

Judging by the size of the grant their success was a close run thing - many more leaps of £20,000 in the bids being invited by the auctioneer and it would seem that they might have been out of the running.