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The story behind Jane Austen’s bracelet

Jane Austen's bracelet
The bracelet is one of three pieces of Jane Austen’s jewelry on display at the Jane Austen House Museum in England. ©Jane Austen’s House Museum. Photo by Peter Smith of Newbery Smith Photography

Owning a piece of Jane Austen history is no easy feat — just ask singer Kelly Clarkson. But what about a replica?

In an effort to help keep costs down for attendees, organizers of the Jane Austen Summer Program are selling replicas of a bracelet that is on exhibit at the Jane Austen House Museum in the village of Chawton, in Hampshire, England.

The turquoise-colored bracelet is one of three pieces of Austen’s jewelry on display at the museum, and each has its own lore.

The topaz cross, given to Austen by her brother Charles in 1801, is said to have inspired the amber cross Fanny Price receives from her brother in “Mansfield Park.”

The turquoise ring, which has a strong written provenance, prompted a to-do a few years ago when pop singer Kelly Clarkson (a well-known Jane Austen fan) bought it at auction for $236,000.  When the British government blocked the performer from exporting the ring to the States, the Jane Austen House Museum in Hampshire successfully raised enough money to match her bid and acquired it.

The original seven-inch-long, one-inch-wide bracelet — made of six strands of “sky blue” glass beads, ivory beads and pinchbeck (a kind of imitation gold) with a gilt clasp — was presented to the museum by Helen Wilder in 1973, says Mary Guyatt, museum curator. Wilder had received it in 1912 from her cousin, Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, daughter of the Rev. James Edward Austen-Leigh, who was Jane Austen’s nephew.

But historians aren’t sure exactly how the bracelet — and many other items from Austen’s life — passed through the family. Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh was born after Austen’s death, so the author couldn’t have passed it directly to her. From her letters, Austen appreciated jewelry and its ties to family and friends, and Austen’s sister, Cassandra, was known for giving several of the writer’s personal items to relatives and friends after Austen died.

“These were treasured by the recipients and as Jane’s fame grew, the items and the name associated with them continued to be passed down the generations,” Guyatt says. After all, if you had something belonging to one of the world’s greatest writers, you might rather keep it in the family, too.

The museum has several notes tracing the ownership of the ring, Guyatt says, including a previous owner who wrote that Cassandra had given her the ring in the 1820s.

The fact that the bracelet also  “has a strong family association, and is of Jane’s time, gives us every reason to trust the oral sources on which the provenance is founded,” says Guyatt.

Sidra Grove, a bead artist who works at the Bead Store in Carrboro, N.C., crafted JASP’s replica bracelets, carefully modeling them on the original using a photograph on a postcard for reference. She estimates that the bracelets — made of Japanese glass seed beads and 14-karat gold-filled box clasps — took about six to eight hours each to make.

The replica bracelets are on sale for $120 on the Jane Austen Summer Program Web site.


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