Details & Cataloguing

English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations

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Austen, Jane.

A GOLD AND GEM SET RING

set with a cabochon blue stone, natural turquoise, size K½ with sizing band, once belonging to Jane Austen, in a contemporary jeweller's box ("T. West | Goldsmith | Ludgate Street | near St Paul's")

[with:] autograph note signed by Eleanor Austen, to her niece Caroline Austen, "My dear Caroline. The enclosed Ring once belonged to your Aunt Jane. It was given to me by your Aunt Cassandra as soon as she knew that I was engaged to your Uncle. I bequeath it to you. God bless you!", 1 page, November 1863, with address panel on verso and remains of black wax seal impression, fold tears; also with three further notes by Mary Dorothy Austen-Leigh detailing the ring's later provenance, 5 pages, 1935-1962


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Provenance

Jane Austen (1775-1817); her sister Cassandra (1773-1845); given in 1820 to her sister-in-law Eleanor Austen (née Jackson), second wife of Rev. Henry Thomas Austen (d. 1864); given in 1863 to her niece Caroline Mary Craven Austen (1805-1880, the daughter of Rev. James Austen); her niece Mary A. Austen-Leigh (perhaps first to her mother Emma Austen-Leigh, née Smith); her niece Mary Dorothy Austen-Leigh; given to her sister Winifred Jenkyns on 27 March 1962; thence by descent

Literature

W. Midgley, 'The Revd. Henry and Mrs Eleanor Austen', Collected Reports of the Jane Austen Society: 1976-85 (1989), 86-91

Catalogue Note

An intimate personal possession of Jane Austen's, hitherto unknown to scholars, that has remained with the author's descendants until the present day. The stone has been identified as natural turquoise but was initially thought to be odontalite, a form of fossilised dentine that has been heated to give it a distinctive blue colour, which came into fashion in the early 19th Century as a substitute for turquoise. It is an attractive but simply designed piece, befitting not only its owner's modest income but also what is known of her taste in jewellery. Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park, is given a gold chain by her cousin Edmund "in all the niceness of jewellers packing", with the comment that when making his choice "I consulted the simplicity of your taste" - in contrast to the more elaborately decorated chain that she had been given by Mary Crawford. Similar sentiments are found in one of Austen's letters when she informed her sister Cassandra that "I have bought your locket ... it is neat and plain, set in gold" (24 May 1813).

On Jane's death her jewellery, along with other personal possessions, passed to Cassandra, and she appears to have given a number of pieces as mementos. After Jane's death Cassandra wrote to Fanny Knight that Jane had left "one of her gold chains" to Fanny's god-daughter Louisa (29 July 1817), and she appears to have given the best-known piece of jewellery known to have belonged to her sister, the topaz cross given to her by her brother Charles in 1801 (see her letter to Cassandra, 26 May 1801), to their mutual friend Martha Lloyd. 

Three years after Jane's death, Cassandra gave the ring to Eleanor Jackson, on hearing the news that she was about to marry her brother Rev. Henry Thomas Austen. Henry had been Jane's favourite brother and was closely involved in getting her novels into print. He lived locally to Cassandra and was by this time a clergyman (curate of Chawton from 1816, appointed perpetual curate of nearby Bentley in 1824), having previously gone bankrupt as a banker. Eleanor, his second wife, was the niece of the rector of Chawton, Rev. Papillon, and seems to have been known to the Austen family for many years.

Eleanor kept the ring for many years, bequeathing it to her niece Caroline shortly before her death. Caroline's brother, James-Edward Austen-Leigh, wrote A Memoir of Jane Austen, and Caroline herself assisted this project by committing her own childhood memories of her aunt to paper, for her brother's use. Caroline never married and the ring passed in turn to James-Edward's daughter Mary, at which point it passed beyond the generation who had personal memories of Jane.

English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations

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