The Darwin Census

A Census of the Extant Copies of the 1st Edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species

1st edn of Origin of SpeciesOn the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin is widely regarded as one of the most important books ever written. Indeed, there is scarcely an area of human endeavour that has not been influenced by Darwin’s theory. The terms Darwinism and Darwinian are now an integral part of the modern lexicon. Because of the importance of the Origin a census of the surviving copies of the 1st edition is being undertaken in association with Darwin Online.

The Origin was first published in 1859. The publisher, John Murray, recorded a first printing of 1,250 copies. It went on sale to the trade on 24 November, and sold out the same day. Today, many copies of the 1st edition are in public and academic libraries, but many are also in private hands or in the trade. It is the objective of this census to record as many copies as possible regardless of their current status, and to provide a mechanism for keeping track of registered copies in the future.

The objectives of this census are many. Three primary objectives include: (1) to establish the frequency of the known variants; (2) to identify any unknown variants; and (3) to locate missing presentation copies. The first and second objectives will hopefully shed light on the printing history of the book; the third may identify copies with relevant annotations by Darwin’s contemporaries and help scholars better understand the initial reception of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

An additional benefit will come from a database that includes a detailed description of each copy, providing a way to identify lost or stolen copies.

The results of the Census will be published by Darwin Online and will be available online for all to see and use. All information gathered will published with the exception of ownership details that owners specifically request be kept confidential.

Although the first printing was relatively straightforward, there are slight variations which need to be identified and the following pages provide a guide to the variations and how to record them on the Form (available here).

If we might suggest the following steps:

1. Print the guide, including the blank Census Form at the end.

2. Have the Origin in hand and step through the guide, completing the form manually.

3. Fax the completed form to the Darwin Census (+1) (248) 885-8845

Ownership details will not be published. The contact names and emails gathered will not be shared with any other organization. The results will be published on Darwin Online for all to see and use. We thank you in advance for your assistance in helping to complete this important project.

Angus Carroll

Darwin Census Project Manager

Darwin Census Update November 24, 2009

The Darwin Census continues to locate and catalogue 1st editions of Darwin’s landmark work, On the Origin of Species. November 24 being the 'publication date,' what better time for a quick summary of progress to date?

Two hundred and seventy-five (275) copies have been located and recorded so far - some by electronic search, as a result of specific queries, or have been brought to the attention of the census by individuals who know of, or own, a copy. Most are in institutional holdings (244), but fifteen (15) are in the trade, and sixteen (16) are privately held. One of the most remarkable copies to come to light as result of the census is Francis Darwin's copy, with his annotations, which has been completely digitized and is now available on Darwin Online. This copy is held by a private collector. Several unrecorded presentation copies have also been found. Updates will be published soon both on Darwin Online and on the Huntington Library’s website.


The Darwin Census is a joint undertaking between Darwin Online ( and the Huntington Library ( More information about the Census can be found at:


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