Sigmund Schott was a German bank director and journalist. He was also a literary critic, bibliophile, and corresponded with the some of the most important intellectual figures of the epoch. In certain editions of Marx’s correspondence, Schott was misidentified as the German politician (1818-1895), with whom he shared the same name. As a result, the importance of the relationship between the young banker and the philosopher has perhaps been underexposed. Schott and Marx wrote to one another on a number of occasions over several months, and in the letter that originally accompanied the present volume—and bears the same date as the inscription: 3 November 1877—Marx details his approach to constructing Capital. “Dear Sir,” Marx begins. “My best thanks for the packages. Your offer to arrange for other material to be sent to me from France, Italy, Switzerland, etc. is exceedingly welcome, although I feel reluctant to make undue claims on you. I don't at all mind waiting, by the by, nor will this in any way hold up my work, for I am applying myself to various parts of the book in turn. In fact, privatim, I began by writing Capital in a sequence (starting with the 3rd, historical section) quite the reverse of that in which it was presented to the public, saving only that the first volume—the last I tackled—was got ready for the press straight away, whereas the two others remained in the rough form which all research originally assumes.” Marx then goes on to mention the volume now offered: “I enclose a photograph herewith, because the copy of the French edition 17 that goes off to you at the same time as this letter only contains a very far from flattering likeness done from a London photograph by a Parisian artist. Your most obedient Servant, Karl Marx.” This letter, so frequently referenced in critical treatments of Capital, not only sheds light on the genesis one of the most significant philosophical works to emerge in the last two centuries, but also underscores the author’s openness and perhaps even his humor. Additionally, it offers an important contextual background for the presentation copy at hand.
Given the nature of other examples of correspondence between the two men, it would seem that Schott and Marx regularly exchanged ideas pertaining to banking and social economy. In a letter sent from London, and dated 29 March 1878, Marx wrote to Schott: “I have, though somewhat belatedly, obtained Volume IV (Industrieactien) of the Saling, to which you so kindly drew my attention. I did not wish to reply to your letter until I had at length had time to run through the thing, and have found it very useful… Finally, I have one more thing to ask of you, namely to be so kind, provided it is not too time-consuming, as to let me have a list of the names of Perrot’s published writings on the subject of joint-stock companies, etc.” Given the tenor of this letter, it would seem that Marx quite relied on Schott for information relating to the financial theories of the day, and that Schott was eager to supply Marx with literature relevant to his work.
'Le Capital', or 'Das Kapita'l as it was titled in German, was published in France in 44 instalments between August 1872 and May 1875. Only the first volume of this work was published during Marx’s lifetime; after his death, Friedrich Engels compiled and expanded his friend's notes into volumes II (1885) and III (1894). Since its initial publication, Volume I of 'Capital' has come to be regarded as a seminal work of modern economic thought, and now holds a place alongside the likes of Smith's 'The Wealth of Nations' (1776) and Keynes's 'General Theory' (1936).
As noted, any presentation copy of 'Capital' is exceedingly rare, with the last being offered in 2016, and inscribed to Johann Georg Eccarius (Bonham’s London, 15 June 2016, lot 98, GBP 218,500). Eccarius was a tailor, a member of the League of the Just (and later of the League of Communists), and a friend of Marx. In 2010, a copy inscribed to Professor Edward Spencer Beesly—another friend of the author, and an early champion of his writing—was offered (Bloomsbury London, 27 May 2010, lot 606, GBP 140,300). The remaining two presentation copies appeared at auction more than 50 years ago (Sotheby’s London, 7 December 1966, lot 373, USD 896; Parke Bernet, 14-15 February 1956, lot 288). The volume present here—given to someone with whom Marx exchanged ideas central to his philosophies and work—ranks among the finest of these presentation copies. The correspondence surrounding it yields a particularly unique and significant sense of historical context, offering an important point of association related to one of the most significant works on economic philosophy.
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