World Auction Record for Darwin’s On the Origin of Species

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. London: John Murray, 1859. Price realized: $500,075.

A first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species sold for the world record price of $500,075 at Bonhams in New York. The book had been estimated at $200,000-300,000 but got sold for $500,075. Ian Ehling, Director Books and Manuscripts, comments: “This was an extraordinary presentation copy that had been carefully stored in a private collection for nearly 100 years. It generated lots of interest during the exhibition and we saw competitive bidding in the auction room. After a four-way bidding battle, the book sold to a client on the telephone.”

The Book’s Journey to New York

Upon publication in 1859, a number of presentation copies were sent to family and colleagues, including one to Professor Robert Caspary (1818-1887), a German botanist and a frequent Darwin correspondent. Caspary and his work are discussed in Darwin’s 1868 The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication as well as in his 1877 The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species. The book was purchased in the early 20th century by Edward Bradford Titchener (1867-1927), an English-born psychologist, professor at Cornell University, and descended to the current owner.

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Learn more about Darwin’s colossal work On the Origin of Species in this short documentary.

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