The stories and information these British first editions contain have stood the test of time and so have the pages on which they were printed. Some have entertained the world for centuries, while others have influenced the beliefs of millions and even come to be worth millions. This is a breakdown of some of those exceptional British first editions; a list of 5 of the most expensive first editions produced by British authors.
The First Book of Urizen (£1.5m) – British First Editions Collection
One of William Blake’s pieces of literature from his prophetic book series and based around his own imagined mythology. The First Book of Urizen was written by Blake supposedly as a reflection of the oppression brought on by alienated reasoning. The story follows an immortal priest known as Urizen – an eternal creative recluse. Urizen becomes separated from his fellow immortals and in his isolation, creates his own universe. Within this universe, Urizen develops his own religion so to enslave the minds of those that inhabit it. The story has been said to operate as a subversion of the book of genesis.
As few as 8 copies of the book have endured.
One of these rare books was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for £1.5 million. Blake printed and painted the images that feature within the books himself, meaning each and every copy was unique in terms of page order, colour and illustrations.
The King James Bible (£500,000) – British First Editions Collection
The most printed book in the world.
The King James Bible has had a huge impact on the world, having even influenced the everyday speech of those who have never even read it. The book was created out of the combined effort of over 50 different scholars. Its genesis was a result of the Protestant clergy approaching King James I and requesting him to commission a bible that could replace the Bishop’s bible and the Geneva bible – a bible which had a habit of denouncing the Catholic Church and was allegedly very popular among the people. A good quality copy of an original King James Bible is now hard to come by and holds the value of £500,000.
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (£150,000) – British First Editions Collection
The Origin of Species, as it came to be known, is the renowned scientific publication written by Charles Darwin and the building blocks from which the once controversial theory of evolution was built upon. The concept of evolutionary adaptation that Darwin established is now the unifying idea behind the life sciences. The book became so influential that it was translated into multiple European languages, as well as Russian, all within his lifetime.
The first edition is not considered to be exceptionally rare, with over a thousand copies being printed, however, original and unrestored copies of the book are few and far between. A copy of the first edition in its original green cloth is worth £150,000.
Frankenstein (£350,000) – British First Editions Collection
This classic gothic horror, perhaps now more well-known due to its convergence into film, was originally published in 1818.
It’s a story that was also once was known by another name; The Modern Prometheus. Created and written by Mary Shelley, the story was her entry into the personal ‘Best Horror Story’ contest between herself, Lord Byron, John Polidori and Percy Shelley (her husband).
The book was supposedly inspired by a dream Mary Shelley had and was published when she was only 19. The signed copy, dedicated from Mary Shelley to Lord Byron, sold for an estimated £350,000.
Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies A.K.A The First Folio (£4-5m) – British First Editions Collection
The world renowned William Shakespeare never saw this collection of 36 of his plays compiled, due to it being released seven years after his death. The plays were selected by Shakespeare’s fellow actors, John Hemminge and Henry Condell who were both mentioned in Shakespeare’s will. The plays were then compiled into the folio by the scribe Ralph Crane. It contained approximately 900 pages and displayed the writer’s portrait, which was printed using a copper engraving, made by Martin Droeshout. The accuracy of the portrait has been called into question and used as evidence in the conspiracy theory surrounding the identity of William Shakespeare.
An estimated 500 copies of the rare book from British author William Shakespeare were printed and sold for the price of approximately £1 at the time of their release. A first edition copy of the First Folio is now worth around £4-5 million.