In collection, as in life, Orwell appears to be a troublemaker; which I think is a fact that the British writer, essayist, and social critic would perhaps be proud of!
George Orwell had a remarkable career during his life, and an even more remarkable one after it. He was considered in his times to be one of the best essayists of his generation, tackling such topics as the perfect cup of tea, Middle England, censorship, fascism, the rights of individual and the state, homelessness, and of course class. Although not what we might think of today when we bandy the terms ‘socialism’ or ‘egalitarian’ – George Orwell was from a very particular breed of British libertarian; the same cultural vein that also fed Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Thomas Paine, perhaps? Orwell was a fierce critic of authoritarian regimes, but also placed a high degree of respect on reason, ethics, and ‘doing-the-right-thing’. He might not have been the sort of socialist who might wave the firebrands, but he was the sort of socialist who could tell you which part of the state to light first for best effect!
Collecting Orwell is a joy as much as it can be troublesome; at the moment his true first editions are much sought after, and it seems that their value is only going to go up as Orwell’s predictions marry with contemporary sensibilities. If you have the opportunity to buy an Orwell true first; then by all means do so now.
I have alluded in this article that Orwell can be troublesome to collect, and I wasn’t merely talking about the price. Orwell’s seminal work ‘1984’ is actually considered by collectors to be the textbook case for the difficulty in collecting first editions. It is not only because it is rare – it is also because of the confusions over its dustjacket. It was printed variably in both matching red and green dust jackets (exact same cover design, only different matte colors). Even though it is presumed that an American edition was also printed in the same year, there is no proof of which one is the true first, and collectors vary between those that vary the red or the green as the ‘truly true’ first print run.
For the collector; a few words of wisdom. A first edition Orwell with a well-maintained dustjacket will add hundreds, if not a thousand to the value. A fact which perhaps makes it more important to consider archiving any copies that you have. The cost of an unjacketed true first Orwell (from Burmese Days right the way through to Keep the Aspidistra Flying) should cost somewhere in the region of $2-5000.