Top 10: Banned Books



2015-06-26 10:29:44

Countless literary works regarded as classics today were originally banned from publication. Governments, churches, schools and libraries around the world have all deemed certain book unsuitable, leading to battles between authors, publishers and the authorities.

This list features the ten most valuable rare books that were once regarded as too obscene to print, but are now highly sought after by collectors.

10) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, regarded as one of the greatest in American literature, was published in 1939 and immediately courted controversy. It was banned by several authorities in California for its depiction of the cruel treatment suffered by incoming migrant workers in the state, and several book burnings took place until the ban was lifted in 1941. In 2002 a 1st edition presentation copy bearing an inscription by Steinbeck sold at Christie’s for $41,825.

9) Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H Lawrence

D.H Lawrence’s 1928 novel was banned on both sides of the Atlantic for its use of ‘obscene’ words and the depiction of sex. It became an underground hit, and led to a highly publicized obscenity trial in the U.K in 1960 when it was officially published by Penguin Books. Charged under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, Penguin proved the book had literary merit and the ban was lifted.


In October 2002, Christie’s in New York sold a privately printed copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover (circa 1929) for $31,070.

8) Animal Farm by George Orwell

George Orwell’s allegorical story, which is highly critical the Soviet Union under Stalin, was initially banned in the U.K during the Second World War as the U.S.S.R fought alongside the Allies. It was later banned in Kenya in the 1990s for its depiction of corrupt leaders, and in United Arab Emirates schools for its inclusion of a talking pig (which opposes the ideas of Islam).

A signed 1945 1st edition copy of Animal Farm sold at Sotheby’s in 2004 for a price of $50,400.

7) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert’s groundbreaking and highly influential work Madame Bovary was first serialized in La Revue de Paris in 1856, and published a year later in a single volume. The book, which tells the tale of a frustrated wife who commits adultery, was banned by the French government and Flaubert was prosecuted (and later acquitted) for "offences against public morals".

In 2007, an 1857 1st edition copy signed and inscribed by Flaubert sold at Sotheby’s in Paris for a price of $51,960.

6) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Magnum Opus’ The Scarlet Letter tells the story of adultery in the Puritanical society of the New World in the 17th century. A bestseller upon its release in 1850, the book was later banned in Russia and in schools throughout America for its themes of adultery and extra-marital affairs.

In 2005 a rare 1st edition presentation copy featuring an inscription from the author sold at Sotheby’s for $57,000.

5) Fanny Hill by John Cleland

John Cleland’s ‘Fanny Hill’ is one of the most banned books of all time, and regarded as the first British pornographic novel. Written by Cleland in 1748 whilst he was in a debtor’s prison, the book was banned a year later as Cleland and the publisher were arrested and charged with “corrupting the King's subjects”. The book was later banned in the U.S in 1821, and continued to be published underground until the 1970s when it was finally released in its original form.

In 2006, an early copy published in 1760 sold for $82,223 at Christie’s in Paris.

4) Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass is the masterwork of the celebrated American poet Walt Whitman, featuring poems he consistently revised throughout his life. Upon its initial release in 1855, it was described by one critic as “a mass of stupid filth” and regarded as obscene literature by many leading numerous booksellers to ban it from their shelves.

In 2009 a highly rare 1st edition copy, one of just 795 initially published, sold at Christie’s in New York for $218,500.

3) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Although now considered a masterpiece of American literature, Mark Twain’s book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was initially banned by numerous libraries and authorities throughout the U.S when it was published in 1885 for its “coarse humour”. Attempts have also been made to ban it from classrooms across America, due to its racial themes which remain controversial to this day.

In 2004 a 1st edition copy of the book, originally owned by its publisher Charles L. Webster and bearing a unique autographed version of Twain’s dedication, sold for $265,100 at Christie’s in New York.

2) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov’s highly controversial 1955 novel Lolita was banned for obscenity in Britain, France, Canada, Argentina and New Zealand. It is now regarded by critics as one of the finest English-language novels of the 20th century.

In 2002, a 1st edition copy inscribed by Nabakov to the celebrated British author Graham Greene sold at Christie’s for a price of $273,500.

1) Ulysses by James Joyce

James Joyce’s 1922 modernist masterpiece was banned for obscenity in both the U.K and the U.S until the 1930s, due to its sexual references. This ban was later overturned in the U.S in December 1933 by the landmark censorship case ‘United States v. One Book Called Ulysses’.

A rare signed first edition copy of Ulysses sold at Christie’s in 2002 for $460,500.

Share on social media
Write a response...

The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.

Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.


Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.

collect it