What is the curious attraction of first editions? This link will give you an idea of the prices George Orwell’s books fetch when housed in their highly sought after dust jackets, especially works published during the 1930s. A signed copy of any first edition by Orwell will sell for an astronomical price. Recent auctions at Sotheby’s suggest Orwell will continue to be an extraordinarily important writer to collectors for the foreseeable future.
All first editions published — both in the USA and UK during Orwell’s lifetime — are on my shelves in facsimile or original dust jackets. This includes both the American and UK editions of Nineteen Eighty-Four* — which were printed less than a week apart — and Animal Farm, which had a very small print run (or at least the UK version did). The facsimile covers are stunning and I am pleased to have the American printing of Orwell’s last novel in an original dust jacket. It is gratifying to have two of my absolute favourites – The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius and Critical Essays – in very good, original covers too. All of my later American first editions have very good to fine original dust jackets.
*Recently procured a signed first UK edition signed “George Orwell” (last sold in Melbourne at auction in 2013 but my research shows Leon Gellert signed it himself to avoid lending his “presentation copy” to friends). On a trip to the Isle of Jura, Orwell’s son, Richard Blair, signed both the US and UK first editions at Barnhill.
There were a few of Orwell’s books that I really coveted, tracked down and purchased at unbelievably good prices. Inside the Whale, which only had a 1000 copies printed (and some of those were destroyed during “The Blitz” in London) became possible when I procured a copy from a collector in South Africa selling his library. He also sold me a doubleplusgood copy of Orwell’s, Homage to Catalonia.
The first UK edition of Down and Out in Paris and London with a genuine dust jacket is the book I most covet but am unlikely to ever own considering the price asked for Orwell’s first book. I am lucky enough to have a genuine first edition (and also a third impression, printed in the same month in January) without their dust jackets. It is fitting that Orwell’s first book I collected was the last one added to my shelf. A gorgeous US first edition with a facsimile cover sits alongside it. I have just added (2019) the rare pamphlet, James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution (1946) to my collection. It would be nice to pick-up some more first editions with original dust jackets but that is becoming increasingly unlikely. However, I have finally found (December 2019) the extremely rare copy with a dust jacket of Talking to India: A Selection of English Language Broadcasts to India (edited with an Introduction by George Orwell).
Gillian Fenwick has greatly assisted with my quest to understand Orwell’s publishing history. Her comprehensive, George Orwell: A Bibliography, is an essential guide and I highly recommend it to collectors. Below I have listed the edition published first and then usually the American first follows. Burmese Days, is the only one of Orwell’s novels to be originally published in the USA (due to concerns re: libel in the UK). It is also the only one of his books (along with the American edition of Down and Out in Pais and London) that has “Eric Blair” on the copyright page rather than “George Orwell”.
Down and Out in Paris and London, Victor Gollancz, 1933 (1500 copies printed)
Down and Out in Paris and London, Victor Gollancz, 1933 Second Impression (1500 copies followed by another 500 for the second impression in the same month)
Down and Out in Paris and London, Victor Gollancz, 1933 Third Impression (1500 copies followed by another 500 for the second impression and then 1000 for this third impression – all in January)
Down and Out in Paris and London, Harper and Brothers, 30th June 1933 (First American edition 1750 copies printed)
La Vache Enragée, Paris: Gallimard 25 May, 1935 (First French edition of Down and Out in Paris and London translated from English by Gwen Gilbert and René-Noël Raimbault – 5500 copies printed)
Burmese Days, Harper and Brothers, 25th October 1934 (First American edition 2000 copies printed; and In February 1935 976 copies were remaindered)
Burmese Days, Victor Gollancz, 24 June 1935 (2500 printed)
A Clergyman’s Daughter, Victor Gollancz, 20 March 1935 (2000 printed)
A (The) Clergyman’s Daughter, Harper and Brothers, 17 August 1936 (First American edition 500 or 1000 copies printed) NB Title misprinted as ‘The’
Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Victor Gollancz, 20 April 1936 (3000 printed but hundreds destroyed during “The Blitz”)
The Road to Wigan Pier, Left Book Club edition, February 1937 (45,150 printed) including the Original Left Book Club Membership Application included with the book.
The Road to Wigan Pier, Victor Gollancz, 8 March 1937 (2150 printed)
The Road to Wigan Pier, Harcourt and Brace, 1958 (First American edition)
Homage to Catalonia, Secker and Warburg, 1938 (1250 copies printed but only 900 sold and the rest remaindered). Signed by Richard Blair at the Poliorama in Barcelona
Homage to Catalonia, Harcourt, The Folio Society, 1970. 240pp. (34/290 copies printed)
Coming Up For Air, Victor Gollancz, 12th June 1939 (2000 copies printed)
Coming Up For Air, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1950 (First American edition 8000 printed)
Inside the Whale, Victor Gollancz, 11 March 1940 (1000 printed of which an unknown number were destroyed in “The Blitz”)
The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, Searchlight Books No. 1, Secker and Warburg, February 1941 (5000 printed)
Animal Farm, Secker and Warburg, May 1945, (4000 printed)
Animal Farm, Harcourt and Brace, 1946 (First American edition 50,000 copies printed) x 2
Animal Farm, Harcourt and Brace, 1946 (with dust jacket)
Critical Essays, Secker and Warburg, February 1946 (3,028 printed)
Dickens, Dali & Others, Reynal & Hitchcock, 29th April 1946 (First American edition of Critical Essays 5000 copies printed)
James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution, Socialist Book Centre, Strand, London, 1946. 16pp (3,000 copies of this pamphlet were printed although few were distributed. Shortly after its publication, Collett’s the official Communist bookshop in London took over the Socialist Book Centre, much to Orwell’s dismay. This event probably drastically reduced the pamphlet’s circulation)
The English People, HarperCollins, August 1947 (26,000 printed)
Politics & the English Language (An Essay Printed as a Christmas Keepsake for the Typophiles), Herbert W. Simpson, Inc., 1947 (illustrations by Merrill Snethen).
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Secker and Warburg, June 1949 (26,575 printed in UK and signed by Richard Blair)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Harcourt, Brace and Company, June 1949 (First American edition in original dust jacket and signed by Richard Blair)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Harcourt, Brace and Company, June 1949 (First American edition 20,000 copies printed)
1984, New York: Signet, 1950 (first American paperback edition Signet #798)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Secker and Warburg, 1950 (fourth UK impression “reset” with Orwell’s death on the back cover in December 1950 – 4975 copies)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Secker and Warburg, 1950 (According to Fenwick, 3150 of 5150 copies of the third impression were bound as “Star Editions” to be sold in Europe). Read more about the publishing history of Nineteen Eighty-Four here.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Secker and Warburg, 1951 (Fenwick provides no detail about print run for this 1951 edition but the novel concludes with 2+2= rather than the 2+2=5 in the 1950 Star Editions)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Secker and Warburg, 1951 (Reprinted July 1951 and usually sold as a ‘fifth impression’ – 4975 copies)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, London: Penguin, 1954 (first UK paperback edition)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Secker & Warburg, 1955 (Uniform Edition)
Nineteen Eighty-Four, Secker and Warburg, 1955 (eighth UK impression with 1956 film tie-in cover)
The English People, London: Collins, 1947 (26 000 copies printed)
Shooting an Elephant and other essays, Secker and Warburg, 5 October 1950 (7530 printed)
England Your England and other essays, Secker and Warburg, 12 November 1953
Such, Such Were the Joys, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 26 February 1953
The Orwell Reader: Fiction, Essays, and Reportage, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1956
Collected Essays, Secker and Warburg, 1961