February’s list of most expensive sales on AbeBooks features a number of remarkable books as usual, but The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA is worthy of special consideration. A signed first edition of James Watson’s book sold for £6,200 last month. Published in 1968, this book is a landmark title in science. However, the book is much more than just a straight account of experiments and laboratories.
The Double Helix is an autobiographical description of the discovery process. It portrays the scientists as people as well as researchers. Watson has been criticised for portraying a key female scientist, Rosalind Franklin, in a sexist way.
The collectability of the book appears to be increasing. AbeBooks has now sold seven copies of The Double Helix priced more than £650. Last year, another signed first edition of The Double Helix sold for £5,600 on AbeBooks.
The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 was considered such a fascinating tale that the BBC portrayed the events in a 1987 drama starring Jeff Goldblum and Tim Pigott-Smith. Watson and his colleague Francis Crick were leading a team at the Cambridge University and they were racing against rival scientists from King's College London.
An annotated and illustrated version of The Double Helix was published by Simon & Schuster last year to mark 50 years since Crick, Watson and a third scientist, Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work. The new edition includes a chapter removed from the original draft of the first edition.
James Watson, born in 1928, is still alive. He has courted controversy several times throughout his long career, usually outspoken comments. He has written a memoir called Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science where he is scathing about fellow academics.
2. Thesaurus Sacrarum Historiarum Veteris Testameni by Gerard de Jode - £10,156
This edition of the Old Testament was published in Antwerp circa in the mid-16th century by noted cartographer and printer Gerard de Jode. It was an ambitious undertaking and the book’s engravings were extremely detailed for this period.
4. New England’s Memorial, or a Brief Relation of the Most Memorable and Remarkable Passages of the Providence of God Manifested to the Planters of New England in America by Nathaniel Morton - £7,257
Published in 1721, this is the second edition of Morton’s book. It is considered one of the foundation works of New England history, and the first secular book published in New England.
6.The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson - £6,200
A first edition of the author’s ground-breaking work regarding the discovery of DNA. The book was signed by Watson and co-discoverer Francis Crick.
8. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger - £5,270
Published in 1951 by Little Brown, this is a first edition of Salinger’s iconic novel.
9= The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien - £4,944
The second in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, this first edition was published in 1954. This copy contains an autograph letter signed and dated 29 December 1961 in which the author describes his busy schedule and his doubts about a sequel to The Lord of the Rings. He signs off by saying "forgive this gloomy note.”
9= The Moment, for Miriam by Kenneth Patchen -£4,944
Patchen was an American poet (1911-1972) and novelist. This rare poetry book was published in 1955 and limited to 42 hand-bound copies produced at Henry Geiger’s printshop. The Moment gathers together two of Patchen's 1955 works of illustrated poems, Glory Never Guesses and A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player. Miriam was Patchen’s wife. This copy belonged to the poet-critic Stanley Burnshaw.