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Lord Byron’s personal copy of Frankenstein to go on display prior to sale

Peter Harrington has obtained a piece of literary history. The Chelsea-based rare bookseller is selling the first edition presentation copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, given by her to Lord Byron, with her autograph inscription on the front flyleaf.

We’ll get to the price in a minute but the good news is that this treasure can be seen by the public. The book published in 1818 will be available to view from 26 September for a week at Peter Harrington’s bookshop at 100 Fulham Road.

But this story gets better. The book has essentially been gathering dust since the 1970s. It was part of the library of the late Douglas Jay, who became Lord Jay. He was president of the Board of Trade under Harold Wilson and died in 1996. His grandson Sammy found the book while going through his grandfather’s papers.

Sammy Jay said: “I saw the book lying at an angle in the corner of the top shelf. On opening it, I saw the title page, recognised what it was at once and leafed hungrily through the text – it was only when I flicked idly back to the first blank that I saw the inscription in cursive black ink, “To Lord Byron, from the author”.”

Richard Ovenden, deputy librarian at the Bodleian, verified that the inscription was indeed from Mary Shelley. Only 500 copies of Frankenstein were printed initially and Mary Shelley apparently retained six for her personal use.

The story of how Frankenstein was written is beyond famous. Shelley came up with the idea in June 1816 in a horror story writing contest in a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva – the contestants were Byron, Mary and Percy Shelley, and a doctor called John Polidori. The contest had been Byron’s idea.

AbeBooks does offer one of the 500 first editions for more than £75,000. Peter Harrington is inviting offers in excess of £350,000 for Byron’s copy of this novel.

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