In childhood, Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) and her siblings created a rich imaginary world, sparked by a set of toy soldiers given to Branwell by their father, and chronicled in tiny handwritten books. Their minute scale and miniature details such as title pages and advertisements, make these little books the most memorable and iconic items in the Museum’s collection. They also chart Charlotte Brontë’s development as a writer and reveal how many of her early themes carry over into her published novels.
On 18 November 2019 one of these tiny manuscripts by Charlotte went under the hammer at the Drouot auction house in Paris. This was part of the second series of The Young Men’s Magazine, produced by Charlotte in 1830 and consisting of more than 4,000 words crammed on to 20 pages measuring just 35mm by 61mm. The series originally consisted of six magazines: four of these are already part of the Museum’s collection and a fifth was originally part of the Law collection, but its present location is unknown.
The Little Book first came to light in a sale at Sotheby’s in 2011, with an auction estimate of £200,000 to £300,000. A generous grant was offered from the National Heritage Memorial Fund – the fund of last resort – and the promise of a grant from the Friends of the National Libraries meant that the Brontë Society went to the auction in December 2011 with over £600,000. It came as a blow when the Society was outbid, and the Little Book was acquired for the Aristophil collection in Paris, briefly going on display at Le Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits, before the entire collection was impounded when Aristophil came under investigation for fraud. The Paris judiciary authorised the sale of the collection, and this time the Brontë Society were successful in their bid to bring the Little Book home to Haworth, where it can be preserved and enjoyed for the benefit of future generations. The Little Book is now on display at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, reunited with the other four surviving miniature manuscripts from the second series.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Friends of the National Libraries for generously supporting our project, also to the other funders involved: The National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Murray Family, The Pilgrim Trust, the Aurelius Charitable Trust, the R. E. Chadwick Charitable Trust, the Kenneth Hargreaves Charitable Trust and more than a thousand literature lovers from around the world, who pledged their support and helped make this happen.