The annotated copy once belonged to Sir Laurence Byrne, the judge who presided over the 1960 obscenity case.
Arts minister Michael Ellis said: “The Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial captured the public attention in 1960. It was a watershed moment in cultural history, when Victorian ideals were overtaken by a more modern attitude. I hope that a buyer can be found to keep this important part of our nation's history in the UK.”
The case is now regarded as a defining moment in British social history, marking the move toward a more liberal and permissive society.
During the trial the prosecution asked the now famous question: “Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would wish your wife or your servants to read?”
Byrne carried his book into the trial at the Old Bailey in a damask bag stitched by his wife, Lady Dorothy Byrne, to hide it from view. She read and annotated his copy ahead of the trial.
The acquittal of the book’s publisher Penguin, tried under the Obscene Publications Act (1959), gained huge public attention and it went on to sell two million copies of the book within two years.
Stanley J Seeger collection
This copy of the book was bought more than 25 years ago at auction by Christopher Cone as a present for his partner, the late Stanley J Seeger, at the time establishing the highest price ever recorded for a paperback sold at auction.
It was then sold at a Sotheby’s in October 2018 for a hammer price of £45,000 as part of the auction of the collection of Stanley J Seeger.
The government is asking for a buyer to match the £56,250 asking price (the hammer price plus fees) to keep it in the UK.
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) made its recommendation on the grounds that the departure of the book from the UK would be a misfortune because of its close connection to our history and national life.
Sir Hayden Phillips, chairman of the RCEWA, added: “Judge Byrne’s copy of the novel, annotated by him and his wife, may be the last surviving contemporary ‘witness’ who took part in the proceedings... It would be more than sad, it would be a misfortune, if this last surviving ‘witness’ left our shores.”
The decision on the export licence application for the book will be deferred until August 9, which could be extended until October 9.