Curator’s Pick: Das Kapital
By Harry Ransom Center
The Ransom Center holds in its collections a first edition of Das Kapital, inscribed by author Karl Marx and published in 1867. The book, purchased by the University in 1969 at an auction, is inscribed to English socialist reformer John Malcolm Ludlow on the title page: “J. M. Ludlow, Esq. / On the part of the author.” In his memoirs, Ludlow later regretted that he hadn’t used the gift as an opportunity to meet the author.
The book also contains textual corrections in pencil and ink by the author on several pages.
“This book joins other cornerstones of modernism at the Ransom Center,” said Rich Oram, Associate Director. The Ransom Center also holds early Albert Einstein relativity offprints and several first editions of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.
When the book was purchased by the University, payment had to be approved by a State Board of Control. The records presented the book as a “collection of European economic systems, including Marxism.”
“Even in 1969 in Texas, you didn’t draw attention to the fact you were buying ‘commie’ material,” Oram said.
Oram said Marx sent out several inscribed copies of the book in hopes of getting it reviewed in England. Marx also hoped to find an English publisher and to make some money off the book to pay for his daughter’s wedding. But at that time, Marx was not well known, and the highly technical style of the book, which was written in German, wouldn’t have been an easy read for anyone. Oram speculates that most of the copies that Marx sent out were probably thrown away.
Very few known inscribed copies of the book exist today. Oram has run across one inscribed to Charles Darwin at the Darwin House and another inscribed to a workers’ group, now at Cambridge University.
Some other Marx materials in the Ransom Center’s collections include a very early edition in Russian of Communist Manifesto, as well as some Marx correspondence.