A previously unknown ring belonging to the British classic author Jane Austen was sold for a staggering £152,450 at a Sotheby's auction, over five times its pre-sale estimate of £20,000-30,000. At Sotheby's English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations sale, eight bidders battled for the turquoise ring, which was eventually won by an anonymous private collector over the telephone.
The ring was offered for sale for the first time, having remained in Jane Austen's family for nearly 200 years handed down among female descendants over many generations.
Austen's works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism and biting social commentary gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. Some of her popular novels include Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma.
"Jane Austen's simple and modest ring is a wonderfully intimate and evocative possession The price achieved today and the huge level of interest it has generated, are a remarkable testament to the author's enduring appeal and her place at the heart of our literary and cultural heritage," stated Sotheby's manuscripts specialists Dr Gabriel Heaton.
Time magazine reported some of the ring's admirers have wondered if the ring was a gift from Tom Lefroy, an Irishman who was Austen's closest thing to a love interest of her own. Austen corresponded with Lefroy during the time that she wrote Pride and Prejudice. Some speculate - as dramatised in the 2007 film Becoming Jane - that Lefroy was the inspiration for Austen's most memorable character, Mr Darcy.
But the ring more likely came from less romantic origins. Sotheby's literature expert, Dr Gabriel Heaton, guesses that it may have been a gift from Austen's brother Henry, who acted as her literary agent. The ring was found in a box from a jeweller in the City of London, where Henry worked as a banker.
Following the death of Austen, her sister Cassandra passed the ring to Henry's second wife Eleanor Austen. Eleanor bequeathed the ring to Jane's niece, Caroline, in a note which was auctioned along with the ring.