Multiply-autographed and illustrated copy of WEIT finally up for auction, proceeds to charity

In October of 2012 I was invited to the “Moving Naturalism Forward” conference, a small group of people charged with discussing how we could promote naturalism in today’s world. It was organized by Official Website Physicist™ Sean Carroll, funded by the generosity of Nick Pritzker (we paid for our own lodgings and food), and held at the Red Lion Inn at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I posted a bit about the meeting (here, here and here), and so the provenance of the book I’m about to describe is impeccable.

I decided that since there were going to be so many luminaries at the meeting, I would bring a hardbound, first-printing copy of WEIT with me, and ask people to sign it. My intention was always to offer the book up for eBay auction, donating the proceeds to the Official Website Charity™, Doctors Without Borders.  Everybody at the meeting signed it, and, at my request, added a few words (or equations) about naturalism.  Steve Weinberg, for instance, drew a Feynman diagram of the production of a Higgs boson—before the boson was found! Other people who signed are mentioned below.

After I got the autographs, I posted about it here, and reader Ben Goren suggested that I should ask Official Website Artist™ Kelly Houle (who is producing a fantastic hand-illustrated, illuminated and lettered version of On the Origin of Species, a project that will take the better part of a decade) if she could possibly add a drawing or two to the book. She did more than that: she lavishly illustrated the dedication page and secondary title page with superb artwork in graphite, colored pencil, gold leaf, and iridescent watercolors (see below). Each chapter heading also has a gold-leaf application.

After that, I held onto the book for a while (actually, two years), so I could collect more signatures, and as I met famous secularists I asked them to sign the book.  Now it’s done, and we’re offering it up for auction on eBay. Kelly also produced a velvet-lined presentation box for the book:


The eBay listing is here (you can also go here), and will run for nine days.  The starting price was $995, and there are now three bids. Given all the people who signed it, and the addition of Kelly’s artwork, this is a one-of-a-kind item: you’ll never see anything like this again; and we hope someone will pay a goodly sum for it.  Every penny of the purchase price will be donated to Doctors Without Borders.

Below are some pictures of the book (you can see more at the eBay listing). Signatories include Ben Goren (with a genuine pawprint from his famous cat Baihu), me, Kelly, Alex Rosenberg, Sean Carroll, Jennifer Oulette, Richard Dawkins, Simon DeDeo, Dan Dennett, Steven Weinberg (I’ve also included a sheet of hotel notepaper on which Weinberg scrawled equations during the meeting), Massimo Pigliucci, Owen Flanagan, Nick Pritzker, Don Ross, Janna Levin, and Terrence Deacon. That was at the meeting, and everyone added a nice phrase or equation expressing their respect for naturalism. After the meeting I got the book signed by Steve Pinker (when he visited Chicago), Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dan Barker, Carolyn Porco, and Lawrence Krauss (the last four signed at the 2014 “Imagine No Religion” conference at Kamloops).

Here are some photos of what we’re offering:


Kelly’s illuminated dedication page: “The spandrels of San Marco”:


Kelly also used an old Victorian natural-history trope: she illustrated the secondary title page with “Darwin’s orchid“, Angraecum sequipedale, (yes, it was mentioned by him, and he famously posited that a flower with such a long nectar spur must be pollinated by a moth with an even longer tongue).


The moth (Xanthopan morganii praedicta), which was later found just as Darwin had predicted, is on the reverse side of the page.


When you hold the page up to the light, you can see the moth with its proboscis in the nectar spur, pollinating the orchid!


Kelly is also offering some of her own artwork in the auction, and she does this only rarely. You can buy other pieces of her work at her site, with the proceeds going to the Darwin Project. I have several of her beautiful beetle paintings, some of which are still available. If you go to the book link, you’ll see “other items” in the upper right hand corner under the seller name “books illuminated” (clicking on the link here should take you there). There you will find several items (there will be more) that Kelly is selling. There is, for instance, this original manuscript illumination, a small version (22 X 30 inches) of Kelly’s title page for the Illuminated Origin, which will be quite large. This is done in hand-painted watercolor and hand-illuminated gold leaf and lettering. It’s a gorgeous work of art that any natural history buff would love, and it starts at $599. The painting was donated by a generous reader of this website, who received it for donating to Kelly’s Kickstarter project for The Illuminated Origin, and then allowed it to be auctioned off. The proceeds will also go to Doctors Without Borders:


Here are two pages from what will be the final illuminated Origin, so you can see how large it will be. The entire book will be hand-lettered and illuminated, just like a medieval manuscript. But it’s Darwin, which is deliciously ironic:


If you have some spare bucks kicking around, or some rich friends who love evolution and natural history, do make them aware of this book’s auction. And remember, all of our efforts are donated: all proceeds from the sale of this copy of WEIT will go to Doctors Without Borders, which does fantastic work helping the sick and injured throughout the world. Needless to say, the organization is secular.

Note: Sean Carroll has already posted about the book at Preposterious Universe.  



  1. GBJames
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    If only I had that kind of moola!

    • Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      I have a yen for it, but I have no yen for it. 😦

      • Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        You are so money with that pun!

        • Posted March 20, 2015 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          Punny wise, pound foolish.


          • Heather Hastie
            Posted March 20, 2015 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

            Time to buy a lottery ticket!

  2. Phil Giordana FCD
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    It is both wonderful and sadly above what I can afford right now. Still, a great initiative.

  3. Barry Lyons
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Wow, this is fantastic! If my last name were Zuckerberg I’d outbid everyone. Oh well.

  4. W.Benson
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Somehow “The Spandrels of San Marco” leaves a taste in my mouth not to different from that of Henri Bergson’s “Creative Evolution”: May the Force be with you?

  5. darrelle
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Wow! This book really is something special. I would love to own it, but I hope it brings much more than I could possibly afford.

    I like Kelly’s art work in general, but I really like that piece depicting the “Tree Of Life.”

  6. Steven Obrebski
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    This might indeed be the signed book of the century! Can anyone suggest a good book on how to rob a bank and get away with it that would help me make a bid for it.

  7. Delphin
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I hope this isn’t off topic. But part of “moving naturalism forward” is refuting crazy arguments against it. I am fighting a quite intelligent philosopher who is, alas, completely loopy on any issue touching souls, free will, god, naturalism. Here is the latest round.

    • Posted March 20, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Oh God. Pun intended.

    • Posted March 20, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Some people are just not worth messing with.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 20, 2015 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      I do not want to look deeper into that thread, but it looks to me like you may have a Poe there.

  8. gunnerkee19
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I was going to bid, but the shipping was too much. (Ahh, my humor rarely works, as you can tell)

    Seriously, the current bid, approximately $1500, is a fraction of what this book is truly worth. If something like this were available from the world of Hollywood or professional sports it would go for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars and would not be worth a fraction of this extraordinary version of WEIT. I sincerely hope someone with dosh to spare and an appreciation for science, reason, humanism, anti-religion, and/or cat drawings encounters this auction on eBay and bumps the bid up to a level more fitting its true value.

    A hundred years from now this book will be discovered and people will be in awe of the signatures from so many revolutionary dignitaries. I predict Coyne, Dawkins, Pinker, Hitchens, Krauss, et al, will in the future be revered as the vanguard of a new period of enlightenment.

    • Posted March 20, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Somebody tip off Gates or Musk.


      • darrelle
        Posted March 20, 2015 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        Not a bad idea at all. Probably a few more wealthy people similarly favorable to naturalism and good causes could be added to that list.

  9. David Schilling
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I remember helping Kelly with her kickstarter when she was getting started. I look forward to seeing her project when its finished.

  10. Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I wish I could afford spending that much on a book.

  11. Posted March 20, 2015 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Here’s hoping that, whoever wins the bid…sees fit to entrust its long-term storage and care with a suitable public institution. For example, it would be right at home in Arizona State University Library’s Special Collections department.


    • Kevin
      Posted March 20, 2015 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      It needs to go on display, somewhere like that. The Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson also comes to mind.

      • Posted March 20, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        A lovely place I’ve not been too in years — far too long! It shouldn’t be all that much longer before the Mustang is ready for road trips, and I’ll have to make that one of the first ones.

        And…fortunately, it won’t be my problem to figure out where it should live. I’ve been outbid, as I rather hoped I would be….


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 20, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      How could they part with the precioussssss?

      • Posted March 20, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        The trick is to pick someplace nearby that would guard it better than you can. Then you can sneak a peak any time you want, but you don’t have the worry of something happening to it….


  12. Posted March 20, 2015 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Kelly’s embellishemnts alone make the book worth 10x the asking price; Baihu’s brings it up to 20x. This is gonna be good! And it’s for a brilliant cause.

    Kelly’s illustration of Darwin’s predicted orchid moth (genius, on both parts) reminds me of the art Darwin’s kids put onto the pages of Dad’s Origin.

    • Posted March 20, 2015 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. Stunning artistry.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted March 20, 2015 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

      im in ur nectar tube, pollinating ur 0rchidz

      • Posted March 21, 2015 at 12:06 am | Permalink

        Aw, it’s even more romantic put that way!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 21, 2015 at 7:24 am | Permalink


  13. Posted March 20, 2015 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Incredible work all the way around; but, wow, Kelly, stunning artwork!!!

    I have a question, Kelly: Where do you obtain your gold leaf? Seems to be a difficult thing to get.

    Thanks! And thanks for sharing your amazing artwork!

    • Posted March 20, 2015 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      I was able to easily get gold leaf (mine came on a small roll) at a good craft store.

    • stephajl
      Posted March 22, 2015 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Re gold leaf: if you’re in Canada, both Wallack’s & DeSerres carry real gold leaf. In the USA, any good art supply store should stock it.

      • Posted March 23, 2015 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        I’ll keep looking. Not able to find it a Michael’s crafts recently. I’ll try Dick Blick.

    • Posted March 28, 2015 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

      Thank you! I get most of my calligraphy supplies, including gold leaf, from John Neal Bookseller.

    • Posted March 28, 2015 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      Thank you! I get most of my calligraphy supplies, including gold leaf, online from John Neal Bookseller.

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    That is a beautiful book and Ben has quite lovely hand writing.

    • Posted March 20, 2015 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      I do? Um…thanks? I’ve always considered it one step above chicken scratching. Actually, if I remember right, I practiced writing out what went in the book before doing it for real.

      If you really want lovely writing…Kelly’s as good a calligrapher as is alive today. Everything in her Illuminated Origins is handwritten, even the parts you’d think were done by a printing press.

      (With a caveat: it’s a multimedia project. In some instances, she’s done the original lettering with pen and ink, and that’s been digitized in one form or another and used as the master copy for a die stamp or giclée print or the like. But, in all cases, it starts with her writing everything by hand.)


      • darrelle
        Posted March 20, 2015 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        A worthwhile sub-project would be to take high res archival quality digital images of each page of Kelly’s Illuminated Origins. Heck, turn those into a digital book and sell them. It would look stunning on one of the new (at the moment) 4K monitors / TVs. Or even standard HD.

      • Posted March 20, 2015 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        I love what you wrote too, Ben. I had to squint to make all the various signatures.

  15. Mark R.
    Posted March 20, 2015 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Wow, what a neat idea to realize, and what a beautiful piece of original art it became.

    Perhaps you can continue the tradition with Faith vs. Fact.

  16. Posted March 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    WOW this is a real treasure!
    I wish I could afford it.

    I just checked, 17 bids and $1850 already.

  17. Posted March 20, 2015 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    $3050 as of 1pm PDT.

  18. Posted March 20, 2015 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I might go put in a bid just to say I tried. And hope I’m outbid.

  19. stephajl
    Posted March 22, 2015 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Two wonderful, wonderful projects. I wish I could afford one or both, but I’m very pleased to see them, all the same.

    I like the suggestion of continuing the tradition with Faith vs Fact, & hope you will consider it, Prof. CC.

  20. Posted March 22, 2015 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Not sure how Zi missed this?

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