Jonathan Swift rare books and memorabilia



2015-06-26 11:07:04

Jonathan Swift rare books and memorabilia are collectible items relating to Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist and novelist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). The leading master of satire in the English language, he is best known for his political and philosophical adventure travel allegory, Gulliver’s Travels (1726).

Brief History/biography

An active member of the Tory administration, Swift wrote prolifically on political and spiritual subjects in the medium of essays and pamphlets. His religious prose parody A Tale of a Tub published with the satirical The Battle of the Books (1704) were what popularised him as a writer. He continued to write very important pamphlets, particularly on the subject of Ireland, such as Proposal for Universal Use of Irish Manufacture (1720),Drapier's Letters (1724), and A Modest Proposal (1729). During the early 1720s he also began to write what would become Gulliver’s Travels, the longer title of which is Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships. This work, published in 1726 and in 1735 with amendments, is a parody of 18th century moral travel narratives such as Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. It is a poignant satire on human nature and the notion of morality, and is spiked with contemporary political allegory . However, over the years it has also become seen as a wonderful children’s story. The first edition, published tentatively by Benjamin Motte, was released in 26th October 1726 in two volumes and sold out of its first run in a week.

Types of rare books and memorabilia


Bloomsbury Auctions

  • Gulliver’s Travels first edition (1726), sold for $5,000 in June 2010.
  • Claudianus (1650), inscribed presentation copy, sold for £7,500 in December 2008.


  • Gulliver’s Travels first edition (1726), with maps and plates, signed by Swift, sold for $24,400 in December 2010.
  • A collection of three pamphlets bound as one: Select poems from Ireland, Miscellanies consisting chiefly of original pieces in prose and verse, and Caelia’s Revenge, a poem. Sold for $11,950 in February 2007.
  • Gulliver’s Travels second edition (1726), with maps and plates, sold for $10,200 in June 2008.
  • Gulliver’s Travels third edition, sold for $2,745 in December 2009.


  • Gulliver’s Travels first edition (1726), sold for $13,200 in June 2005, $45,600 in December 2005 and $116,000 in October 2001.
  • A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books first edition (1704), sold for £1,440 in November 2005.


  • Gulliver’s Travels first edition (1726), sold for $48,000 in March 2005, $84,000 in December 2004, and $108,000 in April 2005.
  • A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books first edition (1704), sold for $2,500 in December 2009, and $6,600 in December 2004.

Documents, Autographs and Photographs

Bloomsbury Auctions

  • Autograph manuscript signed by Swift, c.1690s, framed with a portrait, sold for $10,000 in April 2008.


  • Autograph letter signed by Swift, sold for $56,250 in April 2012.


  • Autograph letter signed by Swift to the secretary of Frederick, Prince of Wales, dated 1739. Sold for $13,200 in July 2007.

Guide for collectors

Early editions of Gulliver’s travels are the most popular with collectors, and enormously valuable. The Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books are also very collectible, but not so valuable. Early printings of Swift’s pamphlets and essays are very scarce and therefore potentially worth seeking out and preserving.

The 1726 first edition of Gulliver’s travels have portraits of Gulliver as the frontispieces. These portraits are either in the first state, with no legend surrounding him, or in the second state with a legend around the oval frame. This can alter the price of the work.

Being such an influential figure in 18th century British history, items relating to Swift’s personal life as well as autograph letters and signatures are extremely valuable.

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