Darwin’s On the Origin of Species sells for thousands

A very rare first edition and author’s presentation copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species from 1859 sold for £305,200, over double its estimate at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts Sale recently.

The first edition was offered with an estimate of £150,000-200,000.

Just 1,250 copies were initially printed in 1859 of Darwin’s study in evolution. He gifted one of them to the distinguished British-born botanist and physician, Dr. Hugh Weddell, whom he greatly admired. Dr. H.A. Weddell’s name appeared on the manuscript list of persons to receive copies of the first edition of On the Origin of Species drawn up by Darwin sometime between August and October 1859.

Matthew Haley, Bonhams Knightsbridge Managing Director and Head of UK Books & Manuscripts comments, “We are absolutely delighted with this result. The interest in this edition is not surprising given only a few dozen copies were presented by Darwin to his circle. This book is regarded as one of the most important scientific works in history.”

The sale saw some impressive results for works by the Argentinian short-story writer, essayist and poet, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) with one autograph manuscript of his short story ‘Funes el memorioso’, circa 1942, achieving £70,250, over 14 times its estimate of £5,000-7,000. Borges’s annotated copy of the first edition of The Aleph from 1949, sold for £35,840, over eight times its estimate of £4,000-6,000.

Other highlights of the sale include:

An old photograph of the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky

  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor (1821-1881) cabinet portrait photograph by Konstantin Shapiro, signed and inscribed by Dostoevsky in Russian to Jacob Faddeevich Sakhar, in December 1880 in the last few weeks of his life. Sold for £76,600, over double its estimate of £30,000-50,000.  
  • New Zealand – Māori Land Transaction, signed by fifteen Māori chiefs with their Moko signatures, “…on board the Rosanna, at Anchor off the Island of Wycheckee…” 23 September 1826. Representing the earliest organised attempt at the colonisation of New Zealand. Sold for £53,740 (estimate £30,000-50,000)


  • J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Uncorrected proof copy of the first edition, inscribed and signed by the author,1997. The proof copy is inscribed “to Catriona long time since I have seen one of these” reflecting that Rowling and the recipient had known each other from almost the beginning of the Harry Potter journey. Sold for £35,840 (estimate: £30,000-50,000)
  • Illuminated Manuscript, De Pape (Ferdinand and Charles) Recueil de pieuses prières, illuminated manuscript on Vellum, Bruges, 1908. An exquisite and rare example of neo-medieval illumination. Sold for £35,840 (estimate £8,000-12,000)