Over 160 years after the Communist Manifesto sparked minds and set off revolutions in different parts of the world, the British Library here has acquired the only complete copy of the first edition of the document.
Appearing even as a wave of revolutions swept Europe in Spring 1848, the pamphlet that is known as the Communist Manifesto was first printed in London. An association of German political exiles sponsored the printing in German, by an obscure radical press, of what would become one of the most momentous political works of all time.
Despite its later fame, the slim 23-page pamphlet by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had only a limited impact at the time. Although several hundred copies were distributed, fewer than 30 copies of the first edition are known to have survived.The British Library’s acquisition will ensure that a copy is preserved in the city of its birth, where it can be seen and studied in the library’s reading rooms at St. Pancras.
“The Communist Manifesto has been described as the best-known and certainly the most widely translated pamphlet of the 19th century,” said Elizabeth James, head of 19th Century British Collections at the British Library. “It also has a special significance for the library. Following his return to London as a penniless refugee in September 1849, Marx obtained a ticket for the British Museum Library, the former home of the British Library, and was a regular reader during the 1850s and 1860s.”