Dublin: Printed for Messrs. Whitestone, Chamberlaine, Watson, et al., 1776. 3 vols., 8vo, [viii], -391; [viii-, -524, [3, ads]; [iv], -412 pp. Diced calf with gilt rules, recently rebacked. Lady Davy’s bookplate and inscription in each vol., purple ink signature of a later owner upon each bookplate, occasional marginal staining, closed tear to p.259 of vol. 3. Preserved in an archival clamshell box. The Adam Smith-John Playfair-Humphry Davy copy, an incomparable association. First Dublin edition, the only edition printed in the same year as the first (London) 1776. Lady Davy’s copy with her bookplate and ink inscription in each volume stating the books were given by Adam Smith to John Playfair. As a tangible record of the connections between these three influential Enlightenment figures this book is intriguing. Adam Smith (1723-1790), who established the foundations of modern economics with this book, and John Playfair (1748-1819), the mathematician and geologist, were friends in later life. They both belonged to the Oyster Club in Edinburgh and each owned copies of the other's books. Smith’s library catalogue lists a presentation copy from Playfair and the sale catalogue (1820) of Playfair’s library includes books by Smith (but not this one). Jane Davy, formerly Apreece (1780-1855), was a well-known and widely-travelled literary hostess. As a young, wealthy widow she rejected a proposal of marriage from John Playfair in favour of Humphry Davy (1778-1829), whom she married in 1812 a few days after he had received his knighthood.
The binding style with wove paper endpapers and diced calf boards postdates Smith’s death in 1790. The first volume has the binders ticket ‘Lycett Nelson Street (City Road)’ and records show that the firm was declared bankrupt in 1829 making it possible that Jane Davy received the book perhaps as a gift from Playfair during their courtship or on his death. Both Playfair and Davy visited London and could have commissioned the binding.
This copy is the only evidence we have that Smith owned a copy of this Dublin edition, which appeared in the same year as the first and is the only other edition printed in that year but surely Lady Davy's attestation suffices. The copy has a small ink correction to page 368 in vol. 3. This correction was not made to the printed text until the 4th edition. Smith was known to make authorial marginal notes in books; though the hand that made this correction cannot be known, it is unlikely that anyone else would have felt emboldened to emend the great man's text. More about the relationships between Adam Smith and John Playfair, and John Playfair and Jane Davy remains to be discovered, stimulated by the discovery of this extraordinary association copy. A fascinating copy of a great Enlightenment text. PMM 221. Item #110826