SMITH, Adam (1723-1790). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. London: for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1776.
Adam Smith’s own copy of the first edition of his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, 'the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought' (PMM). Also from the library of Homer B. Vanderblue, the pre-eminent collector of Adam Smith of the first half of the 20th century.
The present copy is one of two retained by Adam Smith for his own library. Bound in characteristic plain calf and with Smith’s simple bookplate, it was recorded by Smith in his manuscript library catalogue compiled in 1781, where it and a second copy appear on fo. 78. Having no direct descendants, Smith bequeathed his library to his cousin David Douglas, later Lord Reston (1769-1819). On Reston’s death, the library was divided between his daughters, Mrs Bannerman of Edinburgh and Mrs. Cunningham of Prestonpans. The Bannerman portion was given to New College, Edinburgh Library. As Mizuta outlines, Mrs. Cunningham sold part of the library in 1878, apparently through James Stillie, bookseller at Edinburgh. Of the remaining portion, about 150 volumes were donated by her son to Queen’s University, Belfast, and the final portion was sold after his death in 1918. One volume, a German translation of the Wealth of Nations, was donated by a Cunningham descendant to Glasgow University as late as the early 1960s.
This copy was subsequently owned by Homer B. Vanderblue. In his bibliophilic memoir, Vanderblue recounts his chance encounter with Wealth of Nations in the 1920s in a Washington bookshop that led to his assembling the most comprehensive private collection of the works of Adam Smith, with special emphasis on the Wealth of Nations. He was a professor at Harvard Business School and Dean of Northwestern’s School of Commerce; in 1939 he donated his Smith collection to the Baker Library at Harvard, now part of the Kress Collection of Business and Economics. Clearly acquired after his 1939 gift, the present copy from Adam Smith’s library presumably remained with Vanderblue until the end of his life. By 1988 it had entered the trade and graced one private French collection before its acquisition by its current owner, a private European collector. The other copy known to have been retained by Smith is now lost (Mizuta 1543). It contained annotations by Smith, sold at auction on 1 June 1959 as lot 139 for £420, and was acquired by the economist Piero Sraffa (1898-1983).
Smith's is the first major expression of the theory of free trade. Exalted equally as a compassionate conservative and sympathetic liberal, Smith propounds individual liberty and the accumulation of wealth, while arguing strongly for moral fairness and a duty to society. He describes a system of natural liberty and justice which strives towards improvement in the living standards of the population at large, equating higher wages with a healthier and more productive workforce. He expounds the belief that the limits to growth are political, not economic, and he sets out principles to guide legislators. Smith also provides a history of economic theory, an historical analysis of the wealth of nations, including China, and forecasts for the future.
A central figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, together with his friend David Hume, Smith gave up his chair at the University of Glasgow in 1764 to serve as travelling tutor to the third duke of Buccleuch on the Continent. His observations of absolute monarchy and the ensuing fiscal problems laid the ground for his economic thought, as did meetings with intellectuals such as Voltaire and D’Alembert and economists such as Mirabeau and Turgot. After two decades of composition, Wealth of Nations was published in 1776 and immediately hailed as ‘excellent’ and ‘profound’; the first edition was sold out within six months. Four further editions appeared in Smith’s lifetime.
Cf. Homer B. Vanderblue, Adam Smith and the ‘Wealth of Nations’, an adventure in book collecting and a bibliography, Boston, Mass., Baker Library, 1936 (a copy accompanies this lot); Carpenter XXVII; Goldsmiths' 11392; Grolier English 57; Kress 7261; PMM 221; Rothschild 1897, 1898; Hiroshi Mizuta, Adam Smith’s Library, a catalogue (2000), no. 1542.
2 volumes, 4° (287 x 220mm). With the half-title in vol. 2, final blank leaf in vol. 1, adverts printed on final verso in volume 2. and, as often, cancels M3, Q1 U3, 2Z3, 3A4 and 3O4 in volume 1, and D1 and 3Z4 in volume 2. (Light spotting on title, half-title, final 2 leaves and very occasionally elsewhere, II:E4v-F1r browned, small hole in I:Xx3 with loss of pagination.) Contemporary, possibly Scottish, tree calf, narrow gilt border, star tool in spine compartments with red title label and green volume label, marbled endpapers (discreetly rebacked preserving original spine and lightly restored by J. Macdonald Co.); modern brown morocco-backed solander case. Provenance: Adam Smith (booklabel) – Homer Bews Vanderblue (1888-1952; bookplate) – [Hamish Riley-Smith Rare Books, 1993; cf. Mizuta – anonymous French collector – Bernard Quaritch, sold to: -- anonymous European collector].