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Inverness bookshop discovers 110-year-old Jane Austen book set in storage

The books on a shelf at Leakey's bookshop in Inverness.
The books on a shelf at Leakey's bookshop in Inverness.

An unexpected discovery in storage has brought plenty of pride to an Inverness bookshop – and has not inspired much prejudice in keen-eyed collectors.

Charles Leakey, the owner of much-loved bookseller Leakey’s, has taken lockdown as an opportunity to look through the roughly 30,000 volumes that are kept behind closed doors in the shop.

Many of the books have stayed in storage for decades, in some cases completely untouched.

One collection in particular stood out to Mr Leakey, who founded the store 42 years ago, as he was going through a backroom last week: a 12-volume set of books by Jane Austen, published by Edinburgh-based John Grant in 1911.

Mr Leakey said: “It was just in a big pile of stuff I was going through.

“When I saw it, I remembered it, but I hadn’t thought about it for quite a long time. I thought now’s the time to take it out.

“Obviously, with all the shops being shut, sales on the internet have been very active in the last year, so that’s been keeping the business going.”

The title page of the first volume of Sense and Sensibility.

A picture of the volumes was put up on the bookshop’s Instagram page, sparking plenty of interest, and it did not take much persuasion to put the collection on sale.

He continued: “Jane Austen is one of the greatest writer the United Kingdom has produced, maybe the world has produced. She’s right at the top, it doesn’t really get better than Jane Austen.

“That fact is attested to by the demand for her work, whether it’s paperbacks – obviously, first editions one never sees, I’d love to have a chance to see and handle a first edition of one of Jane Austen’s novels, but I never have.

“Over the years, there’s been a number of collector’s editions, and this is quite a handsome one, produced by John Grant in Edinburgh at the turn of the last century.

“I wouldn’t call it rare, but it’s very sought after.”

Unfortunately for anybody keen to get their hands on the books – priced at £400 on the website – a buyer was found this morning, and they are being picked up later today.

Treasure trove

The age of the collection is not remarkable for the shop, with most of the volumes on sale dating from the 20th Century.

Mr Leakey’s personal collection includes an Italian book on theology which dates to 1492 – “Henry VIII was one year old when that was published,” he added, proudly.

The Jane Austen set is also far from the only treasure to be found in the storage, he said: “Just yesterday we discovered a letter written by and signed by Bonnie Prince Charlie, Charles Edward Stuart. That’s unusual.

“He wrote in French, so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but we’ll get it translated.”

As enjoyable as it has been to search through the backrooms, Mr Leakey said he was still anticipating the day customers would be able to come back in and sit by the shop’s fire again.

He added: “I’m looking forward to getting back to normal, as everybody is. I’m no different there.”

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