"THE FIRST AND GREATEST CLASSIC OF MODERN ECONOMIC THOUGHT": 1786 EDITION OF WEALTH OF NATIONS
SMITH, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. London: for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1786. Three volumes. Octavo, contemporary full brown mottled calf rebacked, red and green morocco spine labels, renewed endpapers. $12,000.
1786 edition (fourth edition overall) of Smith's landmark work on the individual's right to the free exercise of economic activity—"the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought" (PMM)—this edition published only ten years after the very rare first edition, an attractive copy in contemporary calf boards.
"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 certainty of its criticism and its grasp of human nature have made it the first and greatest classic of modern economic thought" (PMM 221). Wealth of Nations was an immediate success when first published, and only four additional editions came out during Smith's lifetime. The 1776 first edition is exceptionally rare. "The tone of irreverent skepticism with which it describes the motives of men and governments has influenced the style of economic discourse to the present day… The historical importance of the Wealth of Nations is surpassed by no other economic book… Smith, for the first time, put together the body of economic knowledge that can still be recognized as an early form of what today may be called mainstream economics" (Niehans, A History of Economic Theory, 62-72). On publication of the first American edition, three years after this major English edition, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "In political economy I think Smith's Wealth Of Nations the best book extant." In February 1786 Smith wrote to his publisher: "I beg you will employ one of your best compositors in printing the new edition of my book. I must, likewise beg that a compleat [sic] copy be sent to me before it is published, that I may revise and correct it." This edition "is printed in the same style and with exactly the same pagination" as the 1784 first octavo edition. It is the first London edition to incorporate the significant additions, revisions and corrections first made by Smith in that edition, with a few alterations in wording (Library of Economics Liberty). Bound without half titles. ESTC T96679. Goldsmiths' 13148. Kress B1129. Early owner ink signature to title page of Volume I; occasional penciled marginalia.
Expert restoration to paper loss of pages 167-68 of Volume I, affecting three lines but not readability. Expert restoration to corners, mild rubbing to boards. An attractive copy in contemporary calf boards.