Smith’s Wealth of Nations sells at auction for £46k

Simon Vickers with the first edition
Simon Vickers with the first edition

A first edition of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations fetched a staggering hammer price of £46,000 at an Edinburgh auction yesterday (Wednesday).

The two-volume book previously belonged to the 2nd Earl of Rosslyn and was sold by Lyon and Turnbull for a “private Scottish family”.

Including commission, the floor buyer parted cash with a healthy £55,200.

“They are pretty rare and only come up for sale very, very occasionally,” said Lyon and Turnbull’s book expert Simon Vickers.

“It’s a very important book; a special item and highly sought after - it has all the glamour and mystique of being the first appearance of this particularly important work.

First published in 1776, Adam Smith’s magnus opus took him the best part of ten years to write here in Kirkcaldy and became a cornerstone theory of modern economics.

The book sets out Smith’s arguments for promoting free trade, challenging the prevailing view at the time that a nation’s wealth was measured by how much gold it held and that imports were harmful.

Today, world leaders promote free trade as a matter of course.

Mr Vickers believed around 2000 copies were originally published by London firm Strahan and Cadell.

However, it was impossible to tell how many still exist today.

At £1 16 shillings, the Wealth of Nations was expensive from day one but, today, a pristine first edition is on sale in the USA for an eye-watering $180,000.

Mr Vickers commented: “There’s not many people who are going to be in the market for this type of book but, obviously, by definition they will be incredibly rich.

“If they have that kind of money, to pay an extra £5000 or £10,000 is neither here nor there.”

Meanwhile, Kirkcaldy residents might be gladdened to know the local library owns not just one, but two first editions of the book.

One is currently on display in the galleries’ A Moment in Time’ exhibition, but, needless to say, neither copy is available for home loan.