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.