A gold and turquoise ring that belonged to Jane Austen has been retrieved from the hand of American pop star Kelly Clarkson with the help of Janeites.
The Jane Austen Society of Australia and individuals contributed more than $2500 towards a public campaign to raise more than $257,710 to buy the item from Clarkson on behalf of Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, where the writer penned all of her six completed novels.
"We felt it was so important to save the ring for the Jane Austen museum because if Kelly Clarkson had it she was planning to wear it, and the stone could have come out and been lost, it's a fragile ring," said the president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia, Susannah Fullerton
. "Whereas, if the ring went to the museum thousands of people around the world can enjoy it and it would be kept safe. It needed to be kept for prosperity, not on a rock star's finger."
Clarkson had outbid the museum at auction in 2012 but had been denied an export licence, preventing the former Idol star from taking the ring to America.
Instead, with the purchase it will now go on display at Chawton House on Valentine's Day 2014 alongside Austen's turquoise and seeded pearl bracelet and her topaz cross.
The ring was secured by a single anonymous donation of $170,000, rumoured to have come from an American philanthropist, but that is not what intrigues Fullerton.
It's how Austen, who never married, might have come across the decorative ring.
The film Becoming Jane (2007) explores the tantalising possibility of a hidden romance between Jane Austen and the Irish law student Tom Lefroy.
"We don't know who gave it to her," says Fullerton. "And now it's impossible to know."
Fullerton, who has written several books about Austen and her times, said the ring had been held in family ownership for almost 200 years.
"Most of us didn't know it existed before the auction. It had been kept secret by the descendants of Jane Austen. Maybe, they were worried it might be stolen if people knew but in all the Austen biographies there is no picture of it, and no mention of it in her letters.
"I imagine it wasn't that expensive, it's not like a diamond or a ruby, and she never had much money. In that sense the ring is an indication of her financial status, it was decorative rather than sentimental."
- Sydney Morning Herald