LONDON — The paperback is not in the best condition.
Sotheby’s, which sold it at auction, notes that the spine is chipped, the pages are starting to come loose and an old paper clip has left a rust mark on the cover. It’s also full of pencil underlinings, with a separate note giving page references for the rude bits.
But this copy of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” by D.H. Lawrence, used in perhaps the most famous British obscenity trial of the past century, is now designated a cultural treasure in Britain. It has been banned by the government from leaving the country until at least August while a crowdfunding campaign races to match its auction price of 56,250 pounds (about $71,000).
“‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was at the heart of the struggle for freedom of expression, in the courts and beyond,” Philippe Sands, the president of English PEN, the free-speech charity running the crowdfunding campaign, said in a statement. “This unique text belongs here, a symbol of the continuing struggle to protect the rights of writers and readers at home and abroad.”
D.H. Lawrence, who died in 1930, was one of Britain’s most celebrated modernist writers, but the sexually frank “Lady Chatterley” — his 1928 novel about an aristocratic young married woman and her working-class gamekeeper — was long banned in its unexpurgated form in Britain and the United States.
In 1960, after a change in British obscenity law, Penguin Books published a paperback edition, knowing that it was likely to become a test case. The trial in London that autumn, the writer Jan Morris noted in The New York Times after its conclusion, “raised such a furor of clashing opinion as has been experienced only once or twice since the war.”
The defense summoned a formidable array of witnesses — Ms. Morris described them as “both respectable and glittering” — to testify to the book’s merits. They included a Church of England bishop, the novelist E.M. Forster and the writer and academic Richard Hoggart, whose description of the novel as a “puritanical” work that “progressively purified” the four-letter words it used was seen as decisive in persuading the jury.
The lead prosecutor, Mervyn Griffiths-Jones, was mocked for the social assumptions revealed by his opening statement, in which he asked: “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”
The jurors were three women and nine men, and domestic servants had vanished from all but the wealthiest homes in Britain in the years after World War II.
The jury took three hours to acquit Penguin Books. And while the publisher had to pay its own legal costs, it had little to regret from the trial commercially. Its initial printing of 200,000 copies of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” sold out within days of the verdict, and by the following April it had sold nearly two million.
Though restrictions on the novel in the United States had already been shaken by a federal appeals court ruling the previous year, the London trial had a far greater cultural impact, coming to be seen as one of the first signs of the dramatic social changes that Britain underwent in the 1960s.
“Sexual intercourse began,” the poet Philip Larkin declared in his “Annus Mirabilis,” “Between the end of the Chatterley ban / And the Beatles’ first L.P.”
Justice Byrne died in 1965, and his “Lady Chatterley” was previously sold at auction by his family in 1993. When it went on sale at Sotheby’s again in October last year, the estimated price was £10,000 to £15,000. It fetched £56,250. The identity of the buyer has not been disclosed.
Exporting artworks and some other cultural items over 50 years old requires a special license in Britain. And the official Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest concluded that the book was an important object at risk of leaving the country.
On May 13, the arts minister, Michael Ellis, imposed an export ban until Aug. 12, with the potential to extend it until Oct. 12 for further fund-raising.
In a statement, Sir Hayden Phillips, the chairman of the reviewing committee, described the book as “the last surviving contemporary ‘witness’” to “one of the most important criminal trials of the 20th century.”
As of Saturday, the campaign had raised £17,258, including £10,000 from Penguin Books and £5,000 from the estate of the poet T.S. Eliot.