Discover the secrets of this rare 1922 copy of the confiscated book with Senior Archivist Gavin.

One of the more unusual items we have in the Archive stored here at The Postal Museum is a first edition copy of Ulysses by James Joyce. Joyce wrote the novel between 1919 and 1920 and when it was published in 1922 it was soon banned in the UK for obscene content.

First edition of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce, sent by David Byrne, 1922 (POST 23/220)

It was illegal to send these sorts of publications through the post, and this became one of the many publications that the Post Office was instructed to intercept if they came across them. Here the Post Office was acting under section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 which directed:

…such goods shall be forfeited, and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the Commissioners of Customs may direct.


A series of warrants issued to detain and open packages thought to contain Ulysses was in force from shortly after its publication until 13 November 1936, over which time a fair few copies were intercepted.

A note from early 1934 in a file (POST 23/9, ‘Seditious, obscene and libellous publications sent through the post’) suggests ‘no more than 50’ copies had been stopped since the warrant came into force (as against a newspaper suggestion that 2,000 copies had been seized and destroyed). In particular, efforts were being made to stop the importation of Ulysses into the country from publishers abroad.

First edition of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce, sent by David Byrne, 1922 (POST 23/220)

Our edition is one of 1,000 numbered editions produced by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris. 100 were produced using Dutch handmade paper signed by the author, sold for 350 francs. A further 150 on Vergé d’Arches paper, sold for 250 francs, and the remaining 750 (like ours) for 150 francs. The remainder on handmade paper were numbered, 251 to 1000.

Our copy is numbered 895 and was sent by David Byrne, 21 Duke Street, Dublin, to Jacob Schwartz, Bookseller, 20 Bloomsbury Street, London.

A similar copy is on sale today for $75,000 and a signed first edition was sold for £275,000 in 2009.

As well as the book itself we have a small number of items accompanying it. There is a printed business card for a David Byrne of 21 Duke Street, Dublin and a handwritten note which reads:

Jacob Schwartz, Bookseller, 20 Bloomsbury St.
Sold to Ulysses Bookshop
James Joyce – Ulysses – 1922
Price £3 – 0 – 0.

Business card of David Byrne accompanying Ulysses, sent to Jacob Schwartz, Bookseller, London (POST 23/220)

A note accompanying Ulysses, sent by David Byrne to Jacob Schwartz, Bookseller, London (POST 23/220)

When we reopen our Discovery Room again, why not visit and find out about these two interesting historical figures; David Byrne and Jacob Schwartz?

– Gavin McGuffie, Senior Archivist

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