‘The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.’

― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

One of the earliest known examples of books being banned is as far back as 212 BC. Shih Huang Ti, the first emperor of a unified China is said to have buried alive 460 Confucian scholars in order to control the writing of history. He burned all the books in China, retaining only a single copy of each for the Royal Library. With all historical records now destroyed, he believed history could be said to begin with him. Sadly, things haven’t changed much over the years, and similar tales can be seen right up to the present day.

Recently we shared across social media books that have at one time or another been banned, burnt, censored or abridged. The reasons range from racism to anti-religious sentiment, from immorality to indecency, the advocating of drug use or simply just the ‘portrayal of exclusively middle class rabbits’ (I’m looking at you Peter Rabbit….). The texts shine a light on less enlightened times, the changing face of morality and the role of the state and religion in culture. Whilst the vast majority of these are from the past, the written word is still being censored by governments, schools and religions.

Recently we shared across social media books that have at one time or another been banned, burnt, censored or abridged. The reasons range from racism to anti-religious sentiment, from immorality to indecency, the advocating of drug use or simply just the ‘portrayal of exclusively middle class rabbits’ (I’m looking at you Peter Rabbit….). The texts shine a light on less enlightened times, the changing face of morality and the role of the state and religion in culture. Whilst the vast majority of these are from the past, the written word is still being censored by governments, schools and religions.

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

One of the most prolific examples of banning comes The Vatican. The ‘Index Librorum Prohibitorum’ contained works that were deemed heretical, or contrary to morality by the Sacred Congregation of the Index. Published annually up until 1966, when it was formally abolished by Pope Paul VI, any works included were forbidden to be read by Catholics.

Interestingly, this all started around the time Gutenberg printed his bible (around 1454). Books, once rare and kept carefully in a small number of libraries, could now be mass-produced and widely circulated. The Church saw that printing could enable the spread of immorality and bad faith and, attempted to stem the tide of rapidly spreading ideas.

Below is a selection of books from the shelves at Shapero that found their way on to the Index:

A.A. MILNE; E.H. SHEPARD(illustrator)

The House At Pooh Corner

London, 1928

£2,250

2. Winnie-The-Pooh by A. A. Milne (1926)

'How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.'

The much-loved children’s classic tells the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, 'a Bear of very little brain' and his friends Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore, Owl and Christopher Robin, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard.

Winnie-the-Pooh rare books include the first editions of the original four books (When we were very young, Winnie-the-Pooh, Now we are Six and The House at Pooh Corner), especially if in the original dust-jackets. There were also various special editions produced, including larger format deluxe editions signed by the author and artist. A.A. Milne did write other books, first editions of which can also be valuable.

Kenneth GRAHAME

 The Wind in the Willows.

London, 1908

£4,750

3. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

'The Wild Wood is pretty well populated by now; with all the usual lot, good, bad, and indifferent--I name no names. It takes all sorts to make a world.'

Begun as a series of letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son, The Wind in the Willows is a timeless tale of animal cunning and human camaraderie. Since its first publication in 1908, generations of adults and children have cherished this world of gurgling rivers and whispering reeds, serving as home to the most lovable creatures in all literature―Rat, Mole, Badger, and the irrepressible Toad of Toad Hall.

The first edition was published in 1908, and is a rare book - especially in the fragile dust-jacket, the presence of which can add thousands of pounds to the value.  Two subsequent illustrated editions of The Wind in the Willows, illustrated by E.H. Shepard and Arthur Rackham respectively, brilliantly capture the characters and capers in their different ways, with the special limited editions of each being highly sought-after.

Ian FLEMING

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

London, 1964-65

POA

4. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming (1964-1965)

 'Never say 'no' to adventures.'

Famous for creating James Bond, Ian Fleming also loved fast cars and this passion inspired him to write his only children's book, penned for his young son, Caspar.

With full-colour original illustrations by John Burningham, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang introduced the world to the thrilling adventures of the "crackpot" Pott family and the flying car with a mind of her own.  It was a global hit and in 1968 it was adapted for the big screen (with a screenplay co-written by Roald Dahl).  The first edition was published in three volumes, distinctly uncommon in the original dust-jackets.

Ian FLEMING

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

London, 1964-1965

POA

5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (1950)

'If ever they remembered their life in this world it was as one remembers a dream.'

The seven novels comprising 'The Chronicles of Narnia' (1950-1956), namely The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle, largely take place in a fictional land called Narnia, with mythical creatures and talking animals. The books were charmingly illustrated by Pauline Baynes, and translated into 47 foreign languages. TIME magazine included The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in its 'All-Time 100 Novels'.

First editions of all the Narnia books are difficult to find in good condition, especially with the dust-jackets. Sets in uniformly good dust-jackets spared restoration are notoriously difficult, and prices for a complete set thus can be eye-watering.

Rudyard KIPLING

The Jungle Book

London, 1965

POA

6. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1894)

'Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they; But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is — Obey!'

Born in Bombay in 1865, the exotic sights and sounds of India were to have a profound effect on the young Rudyard Kipling. None of his books reflect this better than his children's classic The Jungle Book, a collection of stories...mostly of Mowgli, an Indian boy who is raised by wolves from infancy and who learns self-sufficiency and wisdom from the jungle animals. Less well known is the companion volume, The Second Jungle Book, published a year later, comprising stories linked by poems. First edition pairs in matching near fine or better condition is the goal of most children's book collectors - dust-jackets do exist, and are rare, but the first edition of the first book was not thought to have had one.

J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit

London, 1951

£2,500

7. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)

'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.'

So in 1937 was the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins first introduced to the world by J.R.R. Tolkien. This unlikely hero would go on to become one of the most beloved children's characters, introducing us to Middle Earth and setting the scene for Tolkien's grander, darker epic, The Lord of the Rings. All the early editions of The Hobbit are collectable, particularly if still in their dust-jackets, but the first printing, with its small manuscript correction to the jacket flap, is in a league of its own, especially if unrestored, and can sell for multiple tens of thousands of pounds, more valuable than the fabled Arkenstone to collectors.

J. M. BARRIE; Arthur RACKHAM (illustrator).

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

London, [1912]

£1,250

8. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie (1906)

‘To die will be an awfully big adventure.’

About a free spirited and mischievous young boy who can fly and never grows up, Barrie never recovered from the shock he received from a brother’s accidental death and its grievous effect on his mother, who was said to find comfort in the fact that he would remain a boy forever. It was here that Barrie’s lifelong obsession with the preservation of childhoood innocence became anchored in his writing.

The character Peter Pan was first introduced in The Little White Bird (1902), but it was in the Arthur Rackham illustrated book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens he truly came of age, so to speak. The splendid, somewhat sinister colour plates bring the story to vivid life, and for many remain the definitive depiction, prior to Peter Pan's reappearance in the 1911 Peter & Wendy and the famous Disney film. Rackham's edition was quickly reprinted, but the deluxe limited issue and the large format portfolio edition are very collectible.

J.K. ROWLING

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

London, 1998

£3,250

9. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007)

“Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”

First editions of all the Harry Potter books are collectible, with values ranging from many tens of thousands of pounds to a couple of hundred pounds; condition is king, and several have "issue points" that determine whether they are the true firsts or not, so it is always worth speaking to an expert. The deluxe issues and the spin-offs can also be valuable. Signed Harry Potter first editions are extremely collectible, BUT there are a lot of fakes out there, so many in fact that J.K. Rowling herself decided to limit signings via specific events corroborated by a hologram sticker and/or other official indicators of authenticity.

Lewis CARROLL; Marie LAURENCIN.

Alice in Wonderland

Paris, 1930

£2,250

10. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1866)

"'And what is the use of a book', thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversation?'"

Alice's adventures in Wonderland and through the Looking-Glass need no introduction here. This timeless, surreal classic of children's literature has been translated into almost 175 languages in the 150+ years since its first publication, illustrated by a range of wonderful artists from John Tenniel to Tove Jansson and Ralph Steadman.

There are many collectable editions of Alice (the true true first edition of Alice in Wonderland was printed in 1865 but pulled due to Tenniel's unhappiness with the quality of the printing, with only a few copies escaping being sold for scrap paper - this is a seven-figure book today); the distinctive red cloth was maintained by the publishers Macmillan throughout the 19th century, but the variation in price between a first printing of the first published edition and even coeval reprints is enormous. Issue points plague both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, so always prudent to talk to a specialist.

Find out more

Explore more items in our Literature department. We are continually updating our stock with modern first editions and rare children’s books.

Can we help?

A first edition of a rare or beautiful book makes a great gift, whether it is for an adult or a child. If you are looking for that special present for a birthday, wedding, anniversary, christening, Christmas or any other special occasion, please contact our rare books specialist Angus Robb and he will help you to find the perfect book for the recipient.