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Derbyshire auction house Hansons expects the two volume work, properly titled Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, to bring £30,000-£50,000 when offered for sale on October 15 at its Etwall saleroom.

Pure gold

Book specialist Jim Spencer described the moment of chance discovery. “I’d spent a whole day at Bishton, going into every nook and cranny to make sure I didn’t miss anything major. Then, last week [on September 20], I was randomly called back to the house for some final checks, I looked into a cupboard beneath a silver cabinet and there it was - pure gold in the world of antiquarian books. Everything about it was absolutely right. I knew straight away it was a first edition.” The book retains its original, if defective, calf gilt binding.

Bishton Hall, at Wolseley Bridge, near Stafford, was built around 1750 and has been home to the Stafford Northcote family and a prep school since 1946. Hilary Stafford Northcote said the family were aware of the books’ existence but had been unable to pinpoint their whereabouts.

The Wealth of Nations, penned by Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith over a 10 year period, lays out the principles of capitalism and the foundation of modern economic thought.

When first published by London firm Strahan and Cadell in 1776 it cost £1 16 shillings with the first edition running to around 2000 copies.

The Wealth of Nations

The rare first edition of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, will be offered at Hansons.

First editions do occasionally appear at auction: another copy previously belonging to the 2nd Earl of Rosslyn was sold by Lyon and Turnbull in Edinburgh in 2013 for £46,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) while another offered at Bonhams in 2017 took £55,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium).

The complete contents of Bishton Hall (Saint Bede’s Prep School) are being sold as part of a six-day sale ‘on the premises’ that includes lots from other vendors. Over 300 lots will be offered from Bishton on October 13 and more as part of an attic clearance on October 16. The Wealth of Nations will be included in the mixed-vendor sale of prints, maps and books titled The Library Auction on October 15.

Hanson have held valuation days at Bishton Hall for the last three years. Other highlights from the property include a pair of 19th century Anglo-Indian gilt lacquer chests on stands, (estimate £3000-4000), an oil of The Grand Canal, Venice, in the style of Canaletto, (estimate £3000-£5000) and a signed photo of former American president Theodore Roosevelt, dated 1909 (estimate £500-£800).