Every so often an opportunity arises in the world of antiquarian book collecting to be a part of history. John Stuart Mill is one of the most influential political philosophers that you have never heard of (unless you yourself are a student of philosophy, of course)! His name does not ring down the ages such as Plato, Descartes or Nietzsche – but the ideas and legacy of this British philosopher have radically changed the face of western political life and beyond. As an early liberal in the nineteenth century, it was his treatise and works on the nature of liberty, freedom, woman’s suffrage as well as anti-slavery that gave birth to the nascent political progressivism that saw the rise of socialism, Marxism, liberal politics, internationalism and multiculturalism. Indeed, the very questions that he grappled with some two hundred years ago that we are still grappling with – when is it right to deprive someone of their liberty? Does a mob of people have more rights that a singular individual?
For the collector, two works stand out -- On Liberty (1859) and Principles of Political Economy (1849). The first, On Liberty is the very same text that helped to fire the abolitionist anti-slavery movement, and was passed around liberals clubs as a sort of ammunition. A true first edition of On Liberty, in as fine condition as it is possible to have with such a work could be worth thousands of dollars. However, a second edition of such an influential work (printed in the same year, because it was so popular) would be much more affordable to the general collector, and would also prove a worthy addition to any collection and would cost as much as a thousand or two in good condition.
A similar story can be found with The Principles of Political Economy published in two volumes. A true first edition that was well maintained would almost be out of the general collector’s price range and available only for the richest of institutions. However, a second edition of the same (again, published in the same year) would be worth far less, perhaps around two thousand dollars at auction.