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    Scarce Second Edition of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations

    Adam Smith. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. In Two Volumes. The Second Edition. London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1778.
    Scarce second edition (first published in 1776) of the "first and greatest classic of modern economic thought" (Printing and the Mind of Man) and the only other edition to be published in quarto format. Two large quarto volumes (10.6875 x 8.5 inches) [8], 510; [8], 589, [1, blank] pp. Complete with half-title in Volume II (no half-title called for in Volume I).

    Contemporary calf, rebacked, with original gilt spines and morocco labels laid down. Corners renewed. Board edges tooled in gilt. Some foxing and browning, heavier in Volume I, Volume II is generally clean and crisp. Volume I with front free endpaper and title strengthened at inner and outer margins, title with some edgewear, a short tear to lower blank margin. Volume II with short tear to outer blank margin of 3S4 (pp. 503/504), not affecting text, final gathering (4F1, 4F2, 4F3) strengthened in the gutter margin, dried leaves pressed between pp. 285 and 285, 378 and 379, 488 and 489, with slight offsetting, additional offsetting on pp. 540/541 (but no leaf present). Card laid in between pp. 476 and 477 inscribed in ink: F.J. Babson/Gloucester, with ink notes on the verso. Armorial bookplate of Gorham Parsons on front pastedown of each volume. A very good copy.

    Adam Smith (1723-1790) spent ten years in the writing and perfecting of The Wealth of Nations. "The book succeeded at once, and the first edition was exhausted in six months...Whether it be true or not, as Buckle said, that the 'Wealth of Nations' was, 'in its ultimate results, probably the most important that had ever been written'...it is probable that no book can be mentioned which so rapidly became an authority both with statesmen and philosophers" (D.N.B.).

    "The history of economic theory up to the end of the nineteenth century consists of two parts: the mercantilist phase which was based not so much on a doctrine as on a system of practice which grew out of social conditions; and the second phase which saw the development of the theory that the individual had the right to be unimpeded in the exercise of economic activity. While it cannot be said that Smith invented the latter theory...his work is the first major expression of it. He begins with the thought that labour is the source from which a nation derives what is necessary to it. The improvement of the division of labour is the measure of productivity...Labour represents the three essential elements - wages, profit and rent - and these three also constitute income. From the workings of the economy, Smith passes to its matter 'stock' which encompasses all that man owns either for his own consumption or the return it brings him. The Wealth of Nations ends with a history of economic development, a definitive onslaught on the mercantile system, and some prophetic speculations on the limits of economic control. Where the political aspects of human rights had taken two centuries to explore, Smith's achievement was to bring the study of economic aspects to the same point in a single work. The Wealth of Nations is not a system, but as a provisional analysis it is completely convincing. The certainty of its criticism and its grasp of human nature have made it the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought" (Printing and the Mind of Man).

    The second edition is the scarcest of the earliest editions of The Wealth of Nations, with only 500 copies having been printed. The third edition consisted of 1,000 copies and the fourth 1,250 copies. It is unknown how many copies of the more common first edition were published. "The second edition exhibits a number of alterations large and small, some providing new information, some correcting matters of fact, some perfecting the idiom, and large number now documenting references in footnotes" (William B. Todd, in the 1976 Oxford edition of The Wealth of Nations).

    KressB. 154. Goldsmiths' 11663. Sabin 82303, Grolier, 100 English, 57, Printing and the Mind of Man 221 (describing the 1776 first edition).


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    Auction Dates
    February, 2008
    21st-22nd Thursday-Friday
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