The volume was bought from Randall House, a rare book dealer in California, at total cost of £200,000. It spent most of the last century in the US, after originally being sold at the Parsonage in 1861 following the death of Patrick Brontë, Maria Brontë's husband. The acquisition was made possible thanks to a £170,000 donation from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), in addition to funding from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.
The book is one of the rare surviving possessions of Maria Brontë, whose property was shipwrecked off the Devonshire coast shortly before her marriage to Patrick Brontë in 1812. It contains Latin inscriptions in Patrick Brontë’s handwriting stating that this was "….the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved".
In addition to annotations, markings and sketches by various members of the family, it also includes a poem and a fragment of prose by Charlotte Brontë and a letter by her husband Arthur Bell Nicholls written shortly after her death in 1855.
Members of the Brontë Society were allowed to view the book at their annual summer festival held
last month in June. It is currently available to view as part of the "Treasures Tours" organised by the museum and is due to go on public display at the Parsonage in 2017.
Ann Dinsdale, collections manager at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, said: "Mrs Brontë’s book is one of the most significant Brontë items to come to light in many years. It was clearly well-used and of great sentimental value to the Brontë children, who lost their mother while they were very young. In addition, the unpublished writings by Charlotte offer new opportunities for research, which is really exciting. This acquisition has been a wonderful addition to our celebrations marking Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary.”
Juliet Barker, historian and author of biography The Brontës (Abacus), said: "The book alone is a valuable acquisition because of its rare associations with Mrs Brontë before her marriage to Patrick, but its importance is immeasurably increased by the unpublished manuscripts tipped into it. There could be no better place for it to be preserved for the future than the Brontë Parsonage Museum.”
Randall House has a long tradition in the rare and collectible book world. Ronald R. Randall grew up in a home where his father, David A. Randall, already was established as head of the rare book department for Scribner's. His mother was an accomplished artist and book illustrator. He grew up in New York surrounded by literary figures, books and fine art. Eventually he settled into his bookselling career. Ron spent seven years at John Howell-Books in San Francisco where he further deepened and enhanced his knowledge of books. He even sold books to his father who by this time was Director of the Lilly Rare Book Library at Indiana University.
In 1975 Ron and a partner opened their own shop in San Francisco. 1985 saw Ron moved Randall House Rare Books to Santa Barbara while his partner stayed in San Francisco.