AN appeal to raise £15 million is underway to save a literary treasure trove - including rare handwritten Bronte manuscripts - from being sold off.

Haworth's Bronte Parsonage Museum has joined a bid by the Friends of the National Libraries (FNL) to save the Honresfield Library, one of the most important private collections of manuscripts and books by some of Britain’s greatest writers.

The appeal has led to Sotheby’s postponing the auction of the first part of the library, originally due for July, and the aim is to preserve the entire library as a collection to be shared with venues around the UK, including the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

The Honresfield Library was formed in the late 19th century by a Rochdale mill-owner and remains a private family collection. The Bronte Parsonage is part of a consortium of libraries and museums trying to raise funds to acquire the collection then pass ownership of every item to appropriate institutions across the country.

At the heart of the Honresfield collection is an “astonishing set of manuscripts” by the Bronte siblings, much of which has been unseen for 80 years and never properly examined. It includes seven of Charlotte Bronte’s famous ‘little books’ and 25 of her letters; a manuscript collection of poems by Anne; and a small autograph manuscript diary note shared by Emily and Anne.

The “jewel of the Bronte collection” is Emily’s holograph notebook of 31 poems, believed by many scholars to have been lost. It includes Charlotte’s handwritten notes. Printed works by the sisters include Emily’s annotated copy of their first publication, the “exceptionally rare” Poems of 1846, and first editions of their novels in original cloth bindings.

The collection also includes the complete working manuscript of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy, handwritten Robert Burns poems and two letters by Jane Austen to her sister, one written on the eve of a ball where she anticipated the end of a love affair and another discussing the reception of her novels Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.

Rebecca Yorke, Interim Director of the Brontë Society, said: “The thought that rare and precious Brontë manuscripts were going to be sold off individually at auction was devastating, so this is wonderful news.

"We’re proud to be working on the fundraising campaign to bring these unique items home to Yorkshire. The sums involved are significant, but we will do all we can to save the ‘little books’, letters, first editions, Emily’s notebook and other items, so they can be enjoyed by Haworth residents and visitors for years to come.”

Charles Sebag-Montefiore, Trustee and Treasurer of FNL, said:  “FNL is thrilled to be able to take the lead in saving the Honresfield Library. FNL is working with a consortium of institutional funders and individual philanthropists to raise the substantial funds need to secure this extraordinary collection for the benefit of everyone in the UK. This is a crucial national endeavour to raise enough funds to keep this unique treasure trove in Britain. This is cultural levelling up, as the items will be spread across the UK from Yorkshire to Edinburgh, Oxford and London.”