Sylvia Plath’s Own Copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ Sold for £87,500 at Bonhams

Bonhams’ recent sale in London offered an array of fine books and manuscripts from literary giants like William Wordsworth, Charles Dicken, Adam Smith and Charles Darwin. However, the limelight of the sale was undoubtedly stolen by Sylvia Plath. Consigned by the poet's daughter, Frieda Hughes, Bonhams auctioned items from the estate of Sylvia Plath and her poet husband Ted Hughes, including books, clothes, jewels and furniture, providing a unique insight into the Hughes-Plath relationship.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), American poet and writer, was best known for her published collections like The Colossus and Other Poems, Ariel, and The Bell Jar. The Bell Jar, the only novel written by Plath, is a semi-autobiographical work in which the protagonist’s experience parallels Path’s own descent into mental illness.

Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and baby Frieda

Plath married Ted Hughes in 1956, and they had two children, Frieda and Nicholas, before their separation in 1962. Suffering from clinical depression for most of her adult life, Plath made several suicide attempts following electroconvulsive therapy for depression. She took her own life in 1963, aged 30.

The top lot at the sale was Sylvia Plath’s own copy of The Bell Jar, estimated at £60,000 - 80,000, sold for £87,500 (US$122,996). Published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, the book was signed with Plath’s own name and dated “Christmas 1962”, some three weeks prior to the official release on 14 January 1963.

This copy is also inscribed with her new address, 23 Fitzroy Road, where she moved in on 10 December with her children after separated from Ted Hughes. Plath once wrote to her mother, saying that “... here I am, in my favourite house in my favourite neighbourhood, happy and as a clam!”. It was where she tragically died eight weeks after moving in.

Another copy of the novel – revised proof with autograph corrections by Plath – sold for £75,000, the second highest price at the sale. Plath made approximately seventy textual corrections and revisions to this copy, including spellings, the insertion of words, font style, punctuation, and in six instances alterations to words.

Hermes 3000 typewriter, the one on which Plath wrote The Bell Jar, also sold for £32,500. The poet was known to have four typewriters during her career, and the present one was her last machine.


In addition to Plath’s copies of The Bell Jar and her typewriter, the sale also offered miscellaneous items like Plath’s copy of The Joy of Cooking, and her wallet containing her ID cards, membership cards and driving licence.  

Part of Plath’s items offered at the sale

A presentation copy of Ariel, first edition, from Ted Hughes to his parent, inscribed "To Mam & Dad with love Ted", sold for £11,250

Plath’s Roget’s Thesaurus sold for £13,750

Plath’s copy of The Joy of Cooking sold for £4,375

Plath’s wallet containing seven membership and ID Cards sold for  £8,750


Top three lots from the Property of Frieda Hughes

Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar, Signed and Dated “Christmas 1962”

Lot no.: 360
The Property of Frieda Hughes
Estimate: £60,000 - 80,000
Price realized: £87, 500 (US$122,996).


Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar, "Uncorrected Proof Copy" With Plath’s Own Manuscript Corrections

Lot no.: 359
The Property of Frieda Hughes
Estimate: £50,000 - 70,000
Price realized: £75,000 (US$105,425)


Sylvia Plath’s Hermes 3000 typewriter

Lot no.: 358
The Property of Frieda Hughes
Estimate: £40,000 - 60,000
Price realized: £32,500 (US$45,684)

Auction summary
Auction house: Bonhams London
Sale: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Sale date: 2018/03/21
Lots offered: 408
Sold: 353
Unsold: 55
Sold by lot: 87%
Sale total: £1,572,325