Book Fairs | August 12, 2022

Banned Books to be Featured at Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair

Courtesy of Firsts: London's Rare Book Fair

A first edition signed by the author of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (1857), from which six poems had been banned, will be offered by Rare Books Le Feu Follet.

London — Firsts: London’s Rare Book Fair, organised by the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association (ABA), will return from 16-18 September for its 65th edition, with 120 international dealers exhibiting at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea.

In addition to the many returning exhibitors, Firsts London will welcome 49 new dealers for the first time. Among these is Sam Fogg, a leading dealer in the art of the European Middle Ages, who will be exhibiting a selection of illuminated medieval manuscripts.

This year’s theme for the Fair ‘Banned Books’ was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses - one of the most famous censored books in modern times - but also responds to contemporary conversations around censorship across literature, the media and online. Pom Harrington, ABA President and Chairman of Firsts London, explains:

"Now is an ideal opportunity to celebrate Ulysses and others like it, that were suppressed, banned or led to their authors being ostracised for expressing views that were different from what was acceptable when they first appeared. One tends to think of forbidden works as an issue of another era, but it’s a subject that is very much of our time. The printed word has always remained a powerful vehicle for enshrining an acceptance of plurality of views. We thought it was a topic that remains very current and worthy of shining a light on.”

Examples of ‘Banned Books’ across the centuries including both fiction and non-fiction will be exhibited alongside other extraordinary books, manuscripts and ephemera.

Scientific controversies

Firsts London will feature important works by scientists who, following their groundbreaking discoveries, found themselves opposed by religious or state authorities. Sophia Rare Books will exhibit a first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), priced at

£2 million. De revolutionibus (1543) radically changed humankind's perspective on its relationship with the universe, refuting the widely accepted Ptolemaic model that placed the Earth at the centre of everything and suggesting the heliocentric astronomical model, which sees the Sun at the centre of the solar system instead. Because of its revolutionary theories, considered heretical by the Catholic Church, the book was eventually included in the infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books) from 1616 to 1758.

Sophia Rare Books’ stand will also feature another great protagonist of the history of science, exhibiting a first edition of Galileo Galilei’s Dialogo (1632) accompanied by his letter to the Grand-duchess of Tuscany (Latin translation, 1641), texts which were both instrumental in Galileo’s Inquisition trial. On display at York Modern Books is another example of a great scientific discovery - a first edition of Albert Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and the General Theory (1916). Einstein’s work was banned in Nazi Germany, and later Austria, where his books were burnt in protest to his theories.

Delving further into the sciences, and particularly focusing on geography and cartography, Daniel Crouch Rare Books will exhibit a selection of atlases and travel books that were banned or prohibited from publication, such as Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1599), from which the whole report of the Voyage to Cadiz was removed.

Censored literature

The Fair will also showcase illustrious examples of censored fiction. A true first edition in Russian of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak will be exhibited by bookseller Peter Harrington. The book was originally published in Italian in 1957 by publisher Feltrinelli, but remained unpublished in its original language until 1958, when the CIA acquired the proofs from Feltrinelli with the intention to publish the book in Russian and distribute copies to Soviet visitors at the Brussels Universal and International Exposition. Assisted by the Dutch intelligence service, the CIA made a deal with Dutch academic publishing company Mouton, which resulted in this very first Russian

publication. Peter Harrington will also present a signed first edition of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. The novel, a major work in the magical realist canon, ignited a furious controversy and was consequently banned in several countries across the world.

James Joyce’s Ulysses, the book that inspired this year’s theme, will make an appearance at the stand of Johnson Rare Books, in the form of a unique edition (1933) featuring an original erotic fore-edge painting inspired by the “Circe” episode.

More famous banned books, each one with their fascinating story, will be exhibited by BAS BOOKS. Among them, a signed first edition of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover privately published in 1928, and the first openly published Penguin edition (1961), which became the subject of an obscenity trial and was then banned in five other countries. Other featured editions include a signed U.S. first edition of Lord of the Flies, by William Golding and a first edition of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in its original binding as it was published by Obelisk Edition in 1934.

Finally, Rare Books Le Feu Follet will present a collection of controversial French books, including a first edition signed by the author of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (1857), from which six poems had been banned, a complete original manuscript of the last play by the Marquis de Sade, La Fête de l'amitié (ca. 1810-1812), and a copy of the banned Pilote de guerre, signed and inscribed by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.


A number of the items featured at the Fair represent watershed moments in translation.

The 1928 first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses (Yurishizu) in Japanese, inscribed by its translator Ito Sei, will be displayed by Peter Harrington Books. This is the first translation of Joyce’s seminal novel into a non-European language, and predates the publication of the work in England and the United States, before their notorious censorship of the novel was lifted. Much of Molly Bloom’s final soliloquy, the most scandalous section of the novel, was expurgated from volume two of this edition, in an effort to avoid censorship, but in this copy has been tipped into the book on xerox sheets by the translator. Despite this omission of these sections of the novel, the second volume was banned in 1934. This is the only set of both volumes of the first edition of this translation ever to appear on the market.

The first Russian translation of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital will also appear at the fair, exhibited by Maggs Bros. This is the first translation of the book in any language and, given its influence on world history, arguably the most important. In one of the great ironies of modern publishing history, Russian censors permitted the publication of Das Kapital, dismissing the book as a “colossal mass of abstruse, somewhat obscure politico-economic argumentation”, and concluding that “in Russia few will read it and even fewer will understand it.” Against their predictions, the edition of three thousand quickly sold out, and in 1880 Marx would write to his friend F. A. Sorge that “our success is still greater in Russia, where Kapital is read and appreciated more than anywhere else.” The book was eventually banned, and the publication of a second edition in Russia was forbidden during the reign of Tsar Alexander III (1881-1894).

A cabinet of curiosities

As well as books, the fair will also include a number of fascinating rare objects and memorabilia. Among these are a 1760 set of French playing cards, adapted for an unknown parlour game; a first edition of the most important Ballets Russes program, in which appears the first usage of the word “sur-realism” by Guillaume Apollinaire, as well as 20 handwritten signatures of the dancers and artists including Picasso, Cocteau and Léon Bakst; and an inscribed photographic portrait of Sigmund Freud - the only surviving image of him revealing a smile - taken by Jewish photographer Edmund Engelmann in 1938, shortly before he fled to the United States leaving the negative behind, and only recovered after the war by Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud.