Firsts is held at the Saatchi Gallery.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

London firm Marcus Campbell Art Books brings the volume to the event, which runs at Saatchi Gallery from September 16-18.

Bearing the signatures of Allen Ginsberg and fellow writers William S Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Micheline, Gregory Corso, Ted Joans and Ann Charter, it is available for £4500.

Howl was banned in the US for when it was published in Howl and Other Poems. In March 1957, customs officials seized 250 copies that were imported from England.

That summer a bookstore manager in San Francisco was arrested for selling a copy to an undercover police officer.


Offered for £4500, Marcus Campbell Art Books brings a signed copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl to Firsts.

In the obscenity trial, based on the work’s references to illicit drugs and sexual practices, the poem was supported by literary experts, the American Civil Liberties Union and ultimately the judge who found the poem to be of “redeeming social importance”.

It is one of the most famous cases of censorship in the US, but the list of banned books is extensive and often familiar.

To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, A Farewell to Arms, Satanic Verses and Brave New World may be on plenty of shelves these days, but they have all been challenged and restricted at various times and places.

In the US, September 18-24 is Banned Books Week – ‘the annual celebration of the freedom to read’ – and organisers of Firsts have judged that the same spirit could bring the curious visitor through the doors of the fair.


A copy of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde is offered for $37,500 by Whitmore Rare Books. It is presented ‘with sincere thanks’ by Wilde to RV Shone, the business manager who thwarted an adversary’s plan to pelt the playwright with vegetables onstage.

Marketing campaign

According to ABA president Pom Harrington, of Peter Harrington Rare Books, there was a record spend on marketing at PR for Firsts this year, including an Underground poster campaign.

Last year, one key sale was made for £300,000 to a walk-in buyer on opening night – perhaps the promotion could help reproduce such a result?

Either way, the outlook is good for this year’s fair, particularly compared to last year’s, which was beset by challenges.

Cancelled three times before finally going ahead, it had lower than usual exhibitor numbers due to coronavirus travel restrictions and obstacles introduced by Brexit.

This month, with those problems largely in the past, there will be more than 120 standing, with 49 added to the roster from last year.

Many of the extra dealers are international firms: Inlibris of Austria, Forum Rare Books of The Netherlands, Sophia Rare Books from Denmark and Libreria Bardón of Spain and – joining for the first time – UK medieval specialist Sam Fogg.

Other exhibitors include Alembic Rare Books, Neil Summersgill, Voewood Rare Books, Bernard Quaritch and Janette Ray.

Among the banned material on offer will be a 1933 edition of Ulysses featuring an erotic fore-edge painting and a first of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Sophia Rare Books is also bringing a first edition of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, which it offers for £2m.