Soccer Rule Book, Jane Austen’s Papers Fetch $3 Million

Club Soccer Rules
The earliest surviving set of club-soccer rules. Devised by Sheffield FC, a northern England team founded in 1857, they will be included in Sotheby's auction of English Literature and History in London on July 14. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's via Bloomberg.

A Jane Austen manuscript and the earliest set of club-soccer rules today fetched a total of $3 million, the top lots of a Sotheby’s auction in London.

The original draft of Austen’s unfinished novel “The Watsons” fetched 993,250 pounds ($1.6 million) with fees, three times its presale high estimate of 300,000 pounds at hammer prices. It sold to an unidentified buyer in the room after a battle between four bidders in the 159-lot sale of English literature and history.

Sheffield FC, a northern England team founded in 1857, was selling the only known surviving copy of its 1859 printed “Rules, Regulations, & Laws of the Sheffield Foot-Ball Club,” as well as the original handwritten draft, dating from the previous year. These items fetched 881,250 pounds.

The Austen manuscript is described by literary scholars as having been written in 1804. The incomplete, extensively revised and corrected text was the last major Austen manuscript left in private hands.

Estimated by Sotheby’s at 800,000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds, the soccer works sold to a telephone bidder, said the New York-based auction house. There were two bidders. The amateur side, which plays seven divisions below England’s Premier League, has been recognized by world governing body FIFA as the oldest club. Its rules were formulated at a meeting at a local hotel.

The Sheffield rules describe a game played with the feet, and refer to current elements of the game such as free kicks, throw-ins, goalkicks and the crossbar. They also list restrictions on handling the ball and “hacking or tripping” opponents.

Sheffield Rules

The sport played today in many ways resembles its earlier form, though Sheffield rules that allow “pushing with the hands” are among those that have changed over the years.

Sheffield FC, which runs 27 teams, plans to use money to improve its facilities and secure its future.

The Austen manuscript, consisting of 68 pages of text, last appeared at auction in 1988, when it was sold by the British Rail Pension Fund for 90,000 pounds. It is lacking the initial 10 leaves. The first six were sold at a Red Cross benefit sale in 1915 and are now in the Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York.

The abandoned fictional fragment tells the story of the four daughters of a clergyman and their hunt for husbands in the market towns of southern England. Austen’s first published novel was “Sense and Sensibility,” printed in 1811.

None of the manuscripts of Jane Austen’s published novels survives, apart from two draft chapters of “Persuasion.” These are now in the British Library.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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