Karen Ievers bought the Victorian photo album expecting it to be full of pictures of 19th-century aristocrats, according to South West News Service (SWNS). Instead, she got a fascinating glimpse into the family of the famous novelist, Fox News reported.
The writer of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Mansfield Park’, Austen is an important figure in English literature. The novelist, who died in 1817 at the age of 41, does not feature in the photo album, although her nieces and nephews appear in it.
The hardbacked tome was compiled by Lord George Augusta Hill, an aristocrat who married two of the novelist’s nieces. Cassandra and Louisa were the daughters of Austen’s older brother Edward.
The album, which was advertised as belonging to Lord George Hill of Hillsborough Castle, was offered for $2,800 on eBay. However, Ievers got the album with a bid of $1,000.
"I bought it thinking it would be an interesting project because it was old and related to Ireland and that was it. I – and neither did the seller, I believe – knew of its significance,” she told SWNS. Ievers, who lives in Ireland, said she purchased the item from a seller in the US.
Austen's family is said to have been a strong influence on her writing.
Ievers contacted Sophia Hillan, author of ‘May, Lou & Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland’, who uncovered the family link to Lord George Hill.
"When Karen shared some of the photos with me, I could hardly believe it," Hillan told SWNS. "Her nieces were very important to Jane Austen, which gives this album a special significance.
Two rare envelopes addressed by the 19th-century British novelist and poet Charlotte Bronte were sold in the UK last year. Addressed to Bronte’s best friend and confidante Ellen Nussey, the envelopes were auctioned for $10,440, the BBC reports.
Other rare historical artifacts have turned up in unusual places. A grainy 19th-century photo purchased for $10 at a North Carolina flea market in 2011, for example, turned out to be an extremely rare photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.
In 2016 a bookstore in Tasmania, Australia, unearthed an extremely rare journal from the Napoleonic wars that had been hidden in storage for decades.