Top 10: Rare books and manuscripts
10) The Tales of Beedle the Bard - J.K. Rowling — $3.98 million
Rowling produced seven copies of this hand-written and illustrated manuscript, featuring fairy stories mentioned within her Harry Potter books. Bound in leather and 157 pages long, six of the copies were gifted to Rowling’s close associates with a seventh offered up for auction in 2007.
It was purchased by the internet retailer Amazon.com for a price of $3.98 million (a record for a modern literary manuscript), all of which was donated to The Children’s Voice charity.
9) Geographia Cosmographia - Claudius Ptolemy — $3.99 million
Claudius Ptolemaeus’ groundbreaking work was the world’s first printed atlas, created in 1477, and was also the first printed book to feature engraved illustrations.
Of the few remaining copies, just two existed in private hands. A copy formerly belonging to the renowned collector Lord Wardington was sold at Sotheby’s in 2006 for a price of $3.99 million.
8) Traité des arbres fruitiers (Treatise on Fruit Trees) by Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau, illustrated by Pierre Antoine Poiteau and Pierre Jean François Turpin — $4.5 million
Formerly belonging to King Louis XV, this five-volume set documents the work of the French scientist Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau. Featuring superb illustrations from notable artists of the day, the work details his experiments and observations with 16 varieties of fruit trees over the course of thirty years.
It was sold by the Belgian auction house Pierre Bergé & Associés in 2006 for a price of $4.5 million.
7)The Gutenberg Bible — $4.9 million
In 1455 the German printer Johannes Gutenberg created the world’s first book using moveable type, and in doing so changed the world forever.
Just 48 copies of the Gutenberg Bible are believed to still exist, with the vast majority in public collections and national institutions. In 1987, a copy was sold by Christie’s in New York for a then-World Record price of $4.9 million to the Japanese book sellers Maruzen Co. Ltd.
6) First Folio - Comedies, Histories & Tragedies - William Shakespeare — $6 million
Described as “undoubtedly the greatest book in English literature”, Shakespeare’s First Folio features 36 plays and was published seven years after the writer’s death in 1623. The folio is regarded as the only reliable source for twenty of his most famous works, and just 22 copies are thought to remain in existence.
The record price for a copy of the folio was set in 2001, when one of the few examples to remain in private hands was purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for a price of $6,166,000.
5) The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer — $7.5 million
Just 12 copies of the 1477 century William Caxton first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are known to exist.
Regarded as one of the most famous works in early English literature, a copy of the book far exceeded its estimate of $1.17 million to sell for a World Record price of $7.5 million at Christie’s in London in 1998.
4) Birds of America - James Audubon — $11.5 million
The world’s most expensive printed book ever sold at auction is John James Audubon’s ‘Birds of America’, a study of birds featuring a series of exquisite hand-coloured plates created over the course of 12 years between 1827 and 1838.
Just 119 copies of the four-volume work are known to exist, and those that have appeared at auction have consistently set record prices. In 2000 an example was sold at Christie’s for $8.8 million, and in 2010 another achieved a price of $11.54 million.
3) The Gospels of Henry the Lion - Order of Saint Benedict — $11.7 million
This 12th century illustrated manuscript features the text of the four gospels, and was commissioned by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony. Created by Benedictine monks from the Helmarshausen Abbey, the 266-page work featured gold leaf and 50 full-panel illustrations.
In 1983 the book was sold at auction by Christie’s for approximately $11.7 million, a World record price for any work of art at the time. It was purchased by the German government, and is currently housed at the Herzog August Library.
2) The Bay Psalm Book - $14.2 million
The Bay Psalm Book was the first book ever printed in the United States, produced in 1640 using a printing press delivered from London. It was originally intended to provide an accurate translation of the original Hebrew psalms into English, with the early American Puritans believing that paraphrased psalms would hamper their salvation. Around 1,700 copies were printed, with just 11 copies known to survive.
A copy of the book was sold at Sotheby's in November 2013 for $14,165,000 - a new world record price for a printed book at auction.
1) The Codex Leicester - Leonardo da Vinci — $30.8 million
This 72-page handwritten notebook features the work of the Italian renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, widely regarded as one of the finest minds in human history.
Dating from the early 16th century, the journal includes da Vinci’s theories on astronomy, the properties of water, rocks, fossils, air and celestial light. Formerly owned by the Early of Leicester Thomas Coke (from whom it takes its name), the codex was later bought by art collector Armand Hammer before being purchased at auction by Microsoft founder Bill gates in 1994.
Gates paid a World record price of $30.8 million, and the Codex is now regularly exhibited in cities around the world.
The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.
Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.
Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.