Lyme misses out as Mary Anning letter sells for staggering £100,800

Mary Anning

DESPITE raising more than £21,000 in just 24 hours, Lyme Regis missed out on the chance to bring an historic letter by fossil hunter Mary Anning home, as it sold for a whopping £100,800.

The unpublished letter, written by Lyme Regis’ most famous daughter, was sold by auction on the Sotheby’s website this afternoon (Tuesday). It was expected to reach between £8,000 and £12,000 but in the last minute bids soared to more than £100,000.

The Jurassic Coast Trust and Lyme Regis Museum had hoped to raise the funds to bring the letter home, where it could be put on permanent display in the museum, which is based on the site of the former home of fossil hunter Mary Anning.

An online fundraising appeal was launched yesterday (Monday) in an effort to raise £18,000 to secure the letter and “bring it home” in just 24 hours.

The ambitious appeal smashed its target, raising just over £21,500 and, for a while, it looked as if Lyme may be lucky with bids on the Sotheby’s website hanging around £18,000. But in the last few minutes they shot up, with the letter eventually selling for a staggering £100,800.

The money raised via the online campaign will now be returned to those who donated.

Dated February 15 1829, Mary Anning sent the letter to her friend and collaborator, William Buckland, describing her latest discoveries on the Jurassic Coast, including a plesiosaur that is now in the Natural History Museum in London.

She explains that she delayed sending him specimens because the recent frost had affected her work on the cliffs, but she was now sending him a box, writing: “…there are few coprolites which I hope you will think good there is one with bits of Sepia in it another in marle with some remarkable bones in it one has an impression of an Ammonite.”

It is believed the box of coprolites that Anning sent to Buckland is now part of the collection of the Oxford Museum of Natural History.

Little of Anning’s correspondence has survived and nothing has come into auction before.

Anning, the working class daughter of a cabinet-maker, lived on the site where Lyme Regis Museum now stands and searched the surrounding cliffs for fossils to sell.

Although she did not win the recognition she deserved from the scientific community during her own lifetime, due to her lower class and sex, she is now considered one of the most significant palaeontologists of all time, with her discoveries including the first correctly-identified ichthyosaur.

Anning, who died in 1847, will soon be brought back to life by award-winning actress Kate Winslet in the film ‘Ammonite’, which was partially filmed in Lyme Regis in March 2019.

The film is set for release next year, having been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

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