A YEAR that marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species has already produced several television and radio programmes on Darwin, and it was always to be expected that his saleroom profile might be high in 2009.
On April 4, Bloomsbury New York sold a first issue copy of that great work for $40,000 (£27,025) plus 20 per cent buyer's premium - an unexpected price for a copy lacking advertisement leaves and in a contemporary half calf binding - and on April 30, Keys of Aylsham sold another. This was in the original publisher's green cloth gilt binding and made a much more predictable £35,000 plus 15 per cent buyer's premium.
Bid to a five times estimate £22,000 in Aylsham, however, was the photographic portrait of Darwin pictured here.
Signed by Darwin in the mount, it is also inscribed From Life Registered Photograph Copyright Julia Margaret Cameron. It is a variant on the 1868 Darwin portrait by Cameron most frequently seen and reproduced - he faces left in the more familiar pose - and was considered a good example of the print.
Sent for sale by a local family, one of whose forebears is believed to have been distantly related to Darwin, it was bought by a US dealer.
A handful of exceptional copies of On the Origin of Species... have made very high prices indeed. In December 2007, the ex-Houghton copy, an entirely unrestored example, inscribed by one of publisher's clerks From the Author and with a note signed by Darwin tipped-in, made $270,00 (then £131,700) at Sotheby's New York.
By Ian McKay