First edition of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to sell for a pretty penny

Adam Smith's own copy of his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations, could fetch a staggering �800,000 at auction next month.
Adam Smith's own copy of his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations, could fetch a staggering �800,000 at auction next month.
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Adam Smith’s own copy of his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations, could fetch a staggering £800,000 at auction next month.

Smith, from Kirkcaldy in Fife, published the first major work of political economy in 1776.

The book took the Enlightenment thinker almost ten years to write at his mother’s home in Kirkcaldy and earned him the title “the father of modern economics”. The rare first edition copy was one of two Smith kept for his own library. The other has now been lost.

The original work will go under the hammer at Christie’s Valuable Books and Manuscripts sale in London on 12 December and has been estimated at £500,000 to £800,000. When the book first went on sale, priced at £1 16 shillings, the first edition sold out within six months.

Eugenio Donadoni, Christie’s head of sale, said: “The Wealth of Nations cast Adam Smith as an icon of economic liberalism, extolling as it did the necessity of free markets, the division of labour and the mutually beneficial character of exchange.

“Two copies of the first edition were retained by Smith for his own library. One is lost, the other will be offered for sale. This is a unique opportunity to acquire the author’s own copy of the foundational text of modern economic thought.”

Smith was born in Kirkcaldy in June 1723 and studied at Glasgow University and Balliol College in Oxford. He published his “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” at the age of 52.

The book, published by W Strahan and T Cadell of London, was immediately hailed as “excellent” and “profound”.

Considered “the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought”, it was the first major expression of the theory of free trade.

The Scot is still considered among the most influential thinkers in the field.

He died in Edinburgh in 1790, aged 67. With no direct descendants, he bequeathed his library to his cousin David Douglas, later Lord Reston.

On Reston’s death, the library was divided between his daughters, Mrs Bannerman of Edinburgh and Mrs Cunningham of Prestonpans.

The Bannerman portion was given to New College Library at Edinburgh University.

Mrs Cunningham sold part of the library in 1878 through the Edinburgh bookseller James Stillie. The copy for sale was owned by Homer B. Vanderblue, a professor at Harvard Business School.

Also in Christie’s sale is an autograph letter from Smith to his publisher William Strahan on 13 November 1776.

The single sheet valued at £55,000 to £80,000 reveals his income from The Wealth of Nations published earlier that year.