Most expensive books


Books are the real pride of humanity. Today, of the ten most expensive books, three are manuscripts and seven are prints.

The record for the price belongs to the handwritten work of Leonardo da Vinci "Code of Leicester". In 1994, the book was sold at Christie’s for $ 30.8 million. At today's exchange rate, this amount is already almost 45 million.

It is unlikely that this record will be broken in the near future, but the record for the price of a printed book may be updated quite soon. Auction house Sotheby's put up for auction a book that may become the most expensive in history, and the youngest in the prestigious top ten.

After all, this is a complete copy of the first edition of the book "Birds of America" ​​by American naturalist, animal painter and ornithologist John James Audubon. The creation is not yet 200 years old, but it has already become a rarity. The book is owned by the heirs of the English Baron Frederick Fermor-Hesketh, who was a famous bibliophile.

At the same auction, other books from his collection are also of interest. Thus, a rare copy of the first edition of William Shakespeare's plays is estimated at $ 1.5-2.3 million.

The book was published in 1623 with a circulation of 720 copies, today only 219 of them have survived. It was one of them, the best preservation, that was sold at that auction for $ 5.2 million. The rest of the members of our honorary list with the facts of their generation at the auction excited not a single rich bibliophile.

"Codex Leicester" by Leonardo da Vinci. As mentioned, this book sold in 1994 for $ 30.8 million. In fact, this is a notebook in which the great Leonardo entered his notes during his life in Milan in 1506-1510. The manuscript contains a total of 18 sheets of paper, which are written on both sides. Moreover, they are folded in such a way that they form a notebook with 72 pages. Curiously, Leonardo kept his notes using his own mirrored font. It was possible to read what was written only with the help of a mirror. The notes of the great inventor are devoted to the phenomena that he was thinking about during that period - about the glow of the Moon and the nature of water currents in rivers, about fossils and the composition of minerals ... The notebook also contains many mathematical calculations, drawings and diagrams. The codex got its name in honor of the Earl of Leicester, who acquired the book in 1717. His heirs kept their invaluable work until 1980, when the famous industrialist and collector Armand Hammer bought it. At one time, the manuscript was even called the "Hammer Code". After the death of this owner in 1994, the book was put up for auction. It was acquired by the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates. The new owner has put forward an initiative, according to which the Code of Leicester is now permanently displayed in various museums around the world.

"The Gospel of Henry the Lion". The last time this book appeared at auction was in 1983. Then Sotheby’s was able to bail out 12.4 million dollars for it, which is already twice as much at current rates. The version of the Gospel is handwritten, it was made in 1188 by order of Henry the Lion (1129-1195). This Duke of Bavaria and Saxony was a representative of the Welf dynasty, which played a prominent role in the political life of Europe for several centuries. The manuscript contains four Gospels at once, there are 226 pages in total. Monks and novices of the Benedictine Abbey of Helmarshausen decorated the book in a unique style. After Duke Henry the Lion died, it was long believed that the book was lost. However, she appeared in public in the 19th century in Prague. It was immediately acquired by the King of Hanover, George V. This is not surprising, because it is Duke Henry who is considered the founder of this German city. But just five years later, King George was overthrown, fled to Austria and taking with him a priceless manuscript. The relic was again lost. But in 1983 at Sotheby's, an anonymous seller put the Gospel of Henry the Lion up for auction. The result of the auction gave the rarity a new owner - the federal government of Germany. The governments of Lower Saxony and Bavaria, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation also took part in the financing. Now the valuable book is kept in the city library named after the Duke of Augustus, in the German Wolfenbüttel.

"Birds of America" ​​by John James Audubon. The last time one of the copies of this book was put up for auction at Christie's in 2000. Then the price of the book was $ 8.8 million, which, taking into account inflation, is already 11 million. This is the most expensive printed edition, but the record soon fell - after all, other copies of this rare book are periodically put up for auction. At the end of 2010 in London, a copy from the first edition sold for 11.5 million, setting a new bar. What makes this printed book unique? The fact is that she is unusual in many ways. The first edition was printed in the USA in 1827-1838, it had only 200 copies. The book's format itself was gigantic - the author even called it "double elephant folio". Each page was about 127 centimeters high. The full copy contained 35 hand-painted prints of 90 by 60 centimeters of engravings depicting life-size birds of the country. Today, only 119 complete copies of the book are known to exist. However, only 11 of them are in private collections. The rest are kept in the best museums in the world. It is not surprising that the appearance of such a book on sale is a great rarity, regarded as nothing less than a sensation.

"The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer. The cost of this book at Christie’s auction in 1998 was $ 7.5 million, at today's prices it is already 9.9 million. A unique copy of the "Canterbury Tales" edition by Jeffrey Chaucer got to the auction. He is called the father of English poetry and, in general, one of the founders of English literature. The book was published in 1477 by the pioneer printer William Caxton at Westminster Abbey. Only 12 copies of the first print run have survived to this day. Only one book, the one sold by Christie’s, is privately owned. The book has a rich history of its own. It first appeared at an auction in 1776, when the same Christie’s earned £ 6 for it. And in 1998, a group of London booksellers became the owner of the rarity.

"Bestiary of the Duke of Northumberland". This handwritten bestiary was sold at Sotheby's in 1990 for $ 5.85 million ($ 9.6 million at current prices). The handwritten book is a medieval encyclopedia of the entire animal kingdom. Here, on 148 pages, in addition to text, 112 color images of not only real, but also fictional creatures were placed. The name of the author of this work remained unknown, while the date of the book's creation dates back to 1250-1260. There are no more than 40 English bestiaries like this in the world, and the appearance of one of them on the market is very rare. The experts of the auction house in 1990 explained that before that the bestiary appeared on sale only in 1889. The sold copy of the Duke of Northumberland is the last of those who remained in private hands, and not in the possession of museums. In 1990, a private collector from the United States, whose name remained unknown, became the new owner of the valuable book.

Gutenberg's "Bible". In 1987, Christie's auction sold the book for 5.4 million (10.2 million today). The copy of the Bible is unique; it was published by the first printer Johannes Gutenberg. It is the oldest book printed with movable type. This copy is a 42-line folio version. There is also a 36-line version known as the Bamberg Bible. Sold in 1987, the Bible is also known among bibliophiles as the "Mazarin Bible". It was among the documents of the first French minister and cardinal Giulio Mazarin that this book was first discovered in 1760. The Gutenberg Museum believes that in the early 1450s, only 180 copies of 42 line Bibles were printed, 48 of them have survived to this day, with 21 in full. The same Bible, sold at the auction, was incomplete, it contained only the first volume. The buyer was the Japanese company Maruzen Corporation. Now a valuable copy is kept in the Keio University Library.

The First Folio: Comedies, Chronicles and Tragedies by William Shakespeare. The book flashed at the Sotheby’s auction relatively recently - in 2006. Then its price was 5.2 million dollars, over the past time it has risen in price by 300 thousand. A valuable lot was a copy of the very first edition of William Shakespeare's plays, published in 1623. The book was published by John Hemming and Henry Condel, members of the troupe of the great playwright. The First Folio is the short title of the book, accepted among bibliophiles. And the full title sounds like "Mr. William Shakespeare Comedy, Chronicle and Tragedy. Printed from accurate and authentic texts." The edition included 36 plays by Shakespeare, that is, almost everything he wrote in this genre. The exceptions were "Pericles" and "Two noble relatives". To date, only 40 complete examples of the first edition have survived. At the same time, only two of them remain in private hands, one of which was sold in 2006.

"On Fruit Trees" by Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau. This book was sold in 2006 in Brussels at Pierre Bergé & Associés. The price was $ 4.5 million and has grown by $ 300,000 since then. The work is by Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau, who wrote about fruit trees. The French chemist, agronomist and member of the Academy of Sciences lived a fruitful life (1700-1782), the crown of which was this book. It contains and summarizes almost all thirty-year observations of the scientist and descriptions of his experiments with fruit trees. The two-volume book is superbly designed; several famous artists of that time worked on it at once. They depicted 16 types of fruit trees, their fruits, leaves and seeds. At one time, this copy was bought for the personal library of King Louis XV, for this it was given a particularly luxurious look, and the cover was gilded.

"Geography" or "Cosmography" by Ptolemy. In the same 2006, Sotheby’s sold this rare book for $ 3.99 million ($ 4.3 million now). This is the world's first printed atlas, created in 1477 in Bologna, Italy, based on the maps of Claudius Ptolemy. This ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer lived around 87-165. The atlas previously belonged to the famous British book collector Lord Wardington, whose collection contained about 700 old books and more than 60 thousand maps. The pearl of the collection was the first edition of Geography. A fire in a country house in 2004 almost destroyed the rarity, and the collector's relatives and neighbors came to the rescue. But a year later, the lord died, and his heirs decided to sell "Cosmography" at auction.

Hebrew Bible. This book was sold in 1989 by Sotheby's. Its price was then $ 3.18 million, today it would be $ 5.5 million. Jewish theologians call the book of the Hebrew Scriptures the Tanach. It consists of 24 books in three sections: Torah, Neviim and Ktuvim. The content of the Hebrew Bible is almost entirely consistent with the Old Testament. The same copy was published in Babylon in the 9th-10th centuries, being one of the oldest and certainly the most expensive Hebrew manuscripts.


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