The Rare Science Books of Charles Darwin

by The bookworm on September 29, 2011 · Rare Book Education, Rare Science Books

It has been more than 200 years since the birth of Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882), and more than 150 years since the first publication of his incredibly rare book, On the Origin of Species. London: John Murray 1859.  Arguably, one of the most influential seminal works of the nineteenth century, it describes the theory of evolution by natural selection.

The book went on sale initially with 1,250 copies on 22 November 1859.  It proved that the popularity of the title was significantly underestimated and the entire publication immediately sold out.  A second edition followed in 1860 and then a third edition a year later.  Second and third editions have been selling anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000. The rare first edition commands a far higher price, averaging over $100,000.

Darwin’s most famous work after On the Origin of Species is The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray, 1871. First edition, first issue/printing limited to 2,500 copies released in February of 1871. The two volume set contains the word “evolution” on page 2 of the first volume, which was printed before the word appeared in the sixth edition of On the Origin of Species the following year (1872). It is considered to be the sequel to On the Origin of Species and it has been selling in the vicinity of $10,000.

The first issue of Darwin’s first book, Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle. London: Henry Colburn, 1839, was re-issued separately later the same year as Journal of the Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries. London: Henry Colburn, 1839. These volumes contain folded engraved maps, charts and wood-engraved illustrations. Each issue can be bought for a little over $20,000.

In further works Darwin demonstrated a variety of accomplishments outside the scope of his theory of evolution.  Particularly his writings in geology, taxonomy, botany, paleontology, philosophy, zoology, psychology and scientific travel have influenced and caused profound reactions among scientists throughout the world.  The following  are some of his rarest writings:

The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs. London:  Smith, Elder &Co., 1842.

Contains 3 folding engraved maps, two of which are colored. From observations made in the 1830s during his voyage on the HMS Beagle.

A Monograph on the Fossil Lepadidae, or Pendunculated Cirripedes of Great Britain. London: Palaeontographical Society, 1851 & 1854.

Two volumes, bound in one on fossil Cirripedia. Includes 5 plates and numerous figures.

A Monograph on the Cirripedia, with Figures of all Species. London, Printed for the Ray Society, 1851 & 1854.

Two volumes on living Cirripedia. Numerous plates a few of which are colored or partially colored. Total 800 copies printed.

On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilized by Insects…London: John Murray, 1862.

One folding plate bound in and text illustrations of orchids and flowers throughout.

On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1865.

First offprint from the original publication of this work in The Journal of the Linnean Society Vol IX, Nos 33 & 34.

The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. London: John Murray, 1868.

Two volumes discussing the actual origin and development of species as an accepted scientific method; numerous illustrations; First printing limited to 1,500 copies.

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. London: John Murray, 1872.

Seven photographic plates (3 of which are folding) and other illustrations.

Insectivorous Plants. London: John Murray, 1875.

Observations and experiments on how the bodies of the insects are ingested and digested by plants; with 30 illustrations in the text; 1,000 first issue copies.

The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom. London: John Murray, 1876.

Work on the advantages of cross-fertilization and recombination of genes through sexual reproduction.

Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands and Parts of South America Visited During the Voyage of the H.M.S. “Beagle”. London: Smith, Elder &Co., 1876.

With two folding maps; five folding engraved plates; and numerous other illustrations.

Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species. London: John Murray, 1877.

Mendelian genetics explain polymorphism of flowers through cross-pollination by insects.  1250 copies printed.

Erasmus Darwin. London: John Murray, 1879

Darwin’s own biography of his grandfather. Frontis of Erasmus Darwin.

The Power of Movement in Plants. London: John Murray, 1880.

Illustrated with 196 text woodcuts.

The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. London: John Murray, 1881.

This was his last work.

While Darwin’s fame and perception of his work is primarily governed by his On the Origin of Species, it is by no means a major concentration of his writings.  While, On the Origin of Species is by far the most expensive book written by him, the inclusion of engraved maps and illustrations in some of the other offerings provide a very desirable alternative.  The limited supply of these rare works has caused collectors to bid higher prices at any condition.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Shauna November 17, 2011 at 4:40 am

This is a great site.

Reply

simon mills October 16, 2014 at 4:47 pm

hi , i have a second edition 1876 geological observations by darwin published by smith and elder in fair condition , any ideas on its current value? thanks.rgds, simon .

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Admin October 22, 2014 at 1:05 am

With the two folding maps and the five folding engraved plates in good condition, you should be looking for more than $10,000.

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L. B. Z. November 6, 2014 at 2:29 am

One sold at auction for about $500 (360 pounds) at Lyon & Turnbull in Jan. 2013 and another just last October at Swann Galleries for just $250, which would suggest a retail of about $1,000.

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June Madia November 10, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I have a copy of Charles Darwin Descent of Man, vol 1 and 2, John Murray 1871 green leather hardcover in a green box case. Not sure if it is first edition or second edition. The word “evolution” appears on page 2 of the Vol 1 and the word “when” appears on page 297. Is it 1st or 2nd edition and value? Thank you

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Admin November 12, 2014 at 1:39 am

Appears to be a first edition, second printing of Darwin’s second book on evolutionary theory with vol. I. “When” being the first word on page 297. In order to confirm check for errata on title verso of vol. I. In his “Descent of Man”, Darwin “compared man’s physical and psychological characteristics to similar traits in apes and other animals, showing how even man’s mind and moral sense could have developped through evolutionary processes”, part of the 1st printing.
Second printing is still worth around $1,000.

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Thomas Nelson December 27, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Hello,

Very interesting article. I have a copy of “The variation of animals and plants under domestication”, 1868. London: John Murray. 1st edition, second issue. Is this worth anything? I know collectors want first edition, first issue. Is the first edition second issue worth anything?

Thanks!
Thomas

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Admin December 28, 2014 at 9:40 pm

At least $1,000 depending on condition.

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Sel April 29, 2015 at 4:09 pm

I have second edition the descent of man by Darwin published by John Murray (ten thousand) in 1874 – any idea of value ? In fair to good condition

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Steve Benson June 26, 2015 at 8:28 pm

I have the origin of species – Charles Darwin Reprinted 6th edition by AL Burt Company Publishers. Is this worth anything?

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claudette July 7, 2015 at 5:39 pm

I have a first edition of The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. It is in very good condition. Would know how much it is worth?

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Julie July 15, 2015 at 12:37 am

I found a copy of “The Origin of the Species” on my fathers book shelf when cleaning out his house. Noticing that it was quite old, I thought I should do a bit of research. The title page says this:
The Origin of the Species
by
Means of Natural Selection
or
Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life

Reply

Julie July 15, 2015 at 12:41 am

Oops, I wasn’t quite finished with my comment.
By Charles Darwin, M.A., F.R.S.

New edition, from the sixth English edition, with additions and corrections
New York,
D. Appleton and Company
1876

Can you tell me if it’s worth anything, and if so, how much?

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Myron J. Mitchell January 23, 2016 at 8:56 pm

I have the second edition of The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. by Charles Darwin.

Do you have any idea of what this book is worth. It is in very good condition.

Thanks for any information.

Myron

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Suzanne Rogowski February 7, 2016 at 9:42 pm

Hi. I have come across a copy of Darwins The origin of Species by means of natural Selection or the preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. . And the Descent of Man and the selection in relation to sex. Not sure if it is worth anything. The Modern Library NY
Thanks

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Noel Parr February 24, 2016 at 6:14 am

I have a original book green cover bound 1873 edition in good condition, Origin of species by means of natural selection. CHARLES DARWIN. has this book any value?

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Robert de Savoye March 5, 2016 at 8:37 pm

I have a copy of “The Power of Movement in Plants”, 1896 Edition by D. Appleton and Company. It is in excellent condition. Any idea as to what it would be worth, and who would be interested in buying it?

Thank you.

Robert

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Leslie Chatfield August 18, 2016 at 3:11 am

Hello,
I was given a 1ST FRENCH ED. OF DARWIN’S ‘VARIATION IN ANIMALS & PLANTS’, 1880 2 VOL.’S for my 21st birthday.
It’s in quite good condition, Published by C.Reinwald Paris. Do you know if this book holds any value?

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Carrie August 29, 2016 at 12:50 am

Greetings…I have a lovely fourth impression of Hound of the Baskervilles. Ive been trying unsuccessfully for years to find a comparable to assess value. My copy is unique in that the front cover is an actual photo of a man holding a pipe. Presumably Holmes? Perhaps Doyle himself? Here’s a few pics. Thoughts, value? Well, I’m not finding a way to attach photos. Have you seen a copy like what Ive described? Thanks!

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Michael September 12, 2016 at 12:35 am

Hello,

I’m about to put up for sale a complete 15 volume set of Darwin’s Works, Author’s Edition (only 1,000 sets printed) and this set is #83 published by D. Appleton in 1896. These books are in amazing condition. In the years I’ve had this set and contemplated selling, I have continually researched yet only come across another complete Author’s Edition set for sale which was around #350 or so and it listed for about $4,500. Seemed to be in similar condition but I think my set is better.

Any thoughts on the value of my set? Thanks!

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Kevin Gault July 1, 2017 at 4:06 am

I have the 1896 2 vol set The Origin of Species. Good condition.

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Steve Drechsler July 21, 2017 at 1:49 pm

I think I have a 1st Edition American Origin of Species book. Is there anyone / anywhere I can send it to get checked out? Is there any value to the book?

Reply

Danny August 12, 2017 at 7:03 pm

I have a copy of the The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin M.A.F.R.S, etc
Illustrated. Revised Edition by John Wanamaker

Reply

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