Previously owned by American collector Paul Mellon (1907-99), the 1859 first edition of the seminal work on the theory of evolution was knocked down well above its $120,000-180,000 estimate at $485,000 (£377,135) at the auction on November 5.
With premium added, the price was $564,500
The sum eclipsed the previous record of $400,000 (£316,353) set by another copy that sold at Bonhams New York in June and made a huge return on this copy’s last appearance at auction when it sold for $24,200 at Sotheby’s New York in November 1989.
This copy, which retained the original green cloth and covers, was in good original condition overall although the spine and hinges had some defects.
The fact that it outsold the presentation copy in June (it lacked a publisher’s inscription that the example at Bonhams contained) suggests a strengthening at the very top of the market for the work billed by Hindman as ‘the first edition of the most important single work in science’.
The initial print run of Darwin’s great book in November 1859 ran to 1250 copies. They can be identified by the word ‘species’ being misspelled ‘speceies’ on page 20.
No copies signed by Darwin himself are known, but a number were designated for presentation in the months immediately following publication and were inscribed to that effect by one of the publisher John Murray’s clerks.
Of the 1250 copies, 1,192 were available for sale, 12 were reserved for the author, 41 were review copies and five were required by copyright law to be sent to Stationers' Hall.
The interest and controversy that followed the publication meant that copies were sold out on the first day. Darwin was immediately asked by the publisher John Murray to prepare a revised text for a second printing.
The second issue was published in January 1860 in an edition of 3000 copies.
£1 = $1.286