Charles Darwin statement on natural selection sells for record $882,000 at Sotheby's

Described as 'the most significant Darwin autograph manuscript to come to auction' Charles Darwin's handwritten response defending his theory of natural selection has been sold at Sotheby's for a record breaking $882,000 (£719,599).

Charles Darwin document record price at Sotheby's
Image: Sotheby's


Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published on 24th November 1859, becoming an immediate sensation, and loved and loathed in equal measure.

On 17th October 1865 Hermann Kindt, the editor of L'Autographe Cosmopolite, wrote to Darwin  


You may, perhaps, remember your kindly complying with a wish of mine respecting an autograph of yours for a German friend; and I should feel greatly indebted to you if you would grant me a similar request, i.e. this time for publicity. I have forwarded to you a journal, which I beg you will not take the trouble of returning, for which I should be happy to have a page in your handwriting for a facsimile reproduction. In case you will kindly comply with my wish, will you please to extract a longer passage from your “Origin of Species”, written on a piece of paper in the size of a page of our publication and signed with your esteemed name. As the journal also appears on the Continent, your numerous friends there would be much pleased to see your handwriting thus reproduced. ...

I shall receive your kind answer and favour with the warmest gratitude, and ever remain, with the expression of greatest admiration for your enlightening works, | Sir, | your’s very faithfully | Hermann Kindt

In response Darwin wrote this one page document, measuring 32 cm x 24.5cm, in which he drills down on his theory that species evolved by way of natural selection. 

"I have now recapitulated the chief facts and considerations, which have thoroughly convinced me that species have been modified, during a long course of descent, by the preservation or the natural selection of many successive slight favourable variations.

"I cannot believe that a false theory would explain, as it seems to me that the theory of natural selection does explain, the several large classes of facts above specified. It is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life.

"Who can explain what is the essence of the attraction of gravity? No one now objects to following out the results consequent on this unknown element of attraction; notwithstanding that Leibnitz formerly accused Newton of introducing 'occult qualities and miracles into philosophy.'

What is unusual is the full signature of 'Charles Darwin' as Darwin would normally sign 'C Darwin' or 'CH Darwin'. It's believed Darwin did this for full effect as he was aware Kindt would be publishing his response.

The hammer price of $882,000 eclipes the previous record price for a Charles Darwin signed document, two pages from his original working manuscript from On the Origin of Species, which were sold by Sotheby's for £490,000 in July 2018.

About your Author:

Adrian Roose has over 30 years’ experience covering all aspects of the rare stamp & memorabilia industry during which he has sold over £50m of unique items, helping build collections for Royalty, household name celebrities and 1,000s of collectors around the world.

Adrian was previously a Director at Stanley Gibbons, a Board Member of Stampex, and Executive Director of Paul Fraser Collectibles, PFC Auctions and JustCollecting, prior to founding The Memorabilia Club.

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