The copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, signed by the author, was authenticated after it was found in a vast cellar full of donations. The book, with a price tag of about £1,500, is expected to be one of the biggest draw at this year’s event in Edinburgh.
“This came up from the coal cellars that we keep the stuff in all year, and it came out of a box yesterday. We have got a true attribution. It’s a book that changed history,” said the American book expert Reid Zulager, who flies in annually to sort rare items from tens of thousands of books on offer at the Christian Aid book sale.
The book by the abolitionist writer, a Connecticut teacher, set out to depict the true nature of slavery in human terms. Its author was once greeted by US president Abraham Lincoln, it is claimed, as “the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war”.
Stowe’s inscription, along with her signature, includes the words of the dying Uncle Tom, after he is viciously beaten by his master Simon Legree for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of two escaping slaves. “Ah, mass’r George, yer too late – the Lord’s bought me, and is going to take me home; and I long to go – Heaven is better than Kintuck.”
First edition signed copies of the book, first published in 1852, have been on offer for close to £10,000. By the time of this later edition, it was a worldwide best-seller of enormous impact.
It is unclear how the book found its way to Edinburgh, though it appears to have been owned by a John Steedman, of Albert Street, in an unknown city. David Brayford, of Jay Books in Edinburgh, said: “It is exceedingly rare. She has obviously given this over to someone she knew, and has put a little inscription in it and signed it. A signed copy of her first book, well, that potentially fetches thousands.”
Two years ago, another rare find, a copy of James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth, the earliest geology book, sold for £5,000 at the book sale in St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church. Traditionally, all books are sold to buyers on the door, but the fair also takes telephone purchases of rare items once punters have found their early picks.
Other rare offerings include a guide to Britain’s greatest duels, a “hot read” in the early 19th century when gentlemen still fought with pistols at dawn. The book, published in 1821 by James Gilchrist, offered detailed accounts of “the principal duels” in Georgian Britain, and the “decision of private quarrels by single combat”.