Adam Smith’s Own Copy of The Wealth of Nations Sells for £908,750

Adam Smith’s own copy of the first edition of his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations sold for £908,750 at auction, exceeding its estimate of £500,000-800,000. It is one of the only two retained by the Scottish economist for his own library. The other one is now lost.

Wealth of Nations

Wealth of Nations, the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought, was published in 1776 after two decades of composition. The first edition was sold out within six months and four further editions appeared in Smith’s lifetime.  

Adam Smith

The present one bound in characteristic plain calf and with Smith’s simple bookplate was recorded by Smith in his manuscript library catalogue compiled in 1781. It was one of the two retained by Adam Smith for his own library. The other one, last sold at auction in 1959 for £420, is now lost.

Adam Smith's personal copy of Wealth of Nations

This copy was once owned by Homer B. Vanderblue, the pre-eminent collector of Adam Smith of the first half of the 20th century. The present one presumably remained with Vanderblue until the end of his life.

It is rare to see Smith’s personal collection come onto the market. The last time any book from his library sold at auction was in 1991.

Estimated at £500,000-800,000, Smith’s personal copy of The Wealth of Nations was hammered down at £750,000 after an intense bidding battle. It was sold to a telephone bidder for £908,750 after premium.

Also offered at the same sale was a first edition copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. Published in 1867, Das Kapital was to inspire anti-capitalist movements in Russia and China, and workers’ revolutions across the globe.

Karl Marx

In the early 1840s, Marx had been consumed with an intensive study of political economy, particularly in relation to the work of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and this interest was to remain with him for the rest of his life. However, he temporarily set aside these concerns after his expulsion from Paris in 1845. He later returned to the subject of political economy and completed the massive draft for the book by the end of 1865.   

Only the first volume was published in Marx's lifetime. The planned second and third parts were published after his death by his friend and supporter Friedrich Engels.

The present copy was presented by Marx to his first cousin, Nanette Philips (1837-1885), whom he enjoyed a close relationship with. It has an inscription ‘'To My dear cousin Netjen, [L]ond[on] 18 Sept. 1867' on verso of title. The book was bequeathed by Hendrik Roodhuyzen Jr (1833-1910), husband of Nanette, and thence by descent to the present owner. Estimated at 150,000 - 250,000, the copy was auctioned for £344,750.

Adam Smith (1722 - 1790). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

Lot no.: 220
Created in: 1776

  • Adam Smith (booklabel)
  • Homer Bews Vanderblue (1888-1952; bookplate)
  • Hamish Riley-Smith Rare Books, 1993; cf. Mizuta
  • anonymous French collector
  • Bernard Quaritch
  • sold to anonymous European collector

Estimate: £500,000 - 800,000
Price realised: £908,750

Karl Marx (1818 - 1883). Das Kapital

Lot no.: 222
Created in: 1867

  • Nanette Philips (1837-1885, first cousin of Marx)
  • Hendrik Roodhuyzen Jr (1833-1910, husband of Nanette, ownership inscription on pale pink endpaper)
  • thence by descent to the present owner

Estimate: £150,000 - 250,000
Price realised: £344,750

Auction details
Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Valuable Books and Manuscript
Sale: 12 December 2018
Sale total: £3,879,250