For a bookworm, naturally, all books are priceless. However, speaking in monetary terms, some books, since they're first editions, illustrated by a celebrated author, or simply because they're incredibly rare, are worth millions. In a time when audio and eBooks have supplanted traditional books, it's hard to imagine a book selling for millions at an auction, but read through this list and you'll be surprised because we've rounded up some of the most coveted, rarest, and priciest books & manuscripts in the world.
The Codex of Leicester, written in 1510, is the personal scientific journal of the Italian polymath, Leonardo Da Vinci. With interests in diverse disciplines including drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, and several others, Da Vinci is renowned as the most diversely talented and gifted mind to have ever lived, with an insatiable curiosity and an exceptional imagination. The 72-page manuscript comprises of his musings, mental notes, theories, ideas, and observations, and with no other copies in existence, this journal is the most sought after and rarest manuscripts in the world today. It has been owned by Giuseppe Ghezzi, Earl of Leicester, Armand Hammer and was purchased by Bill Gates in 1994 for $30 million, who digitally scanned several pages and turned them into screen savers for Microsoft's Windows 95 operating system.
Drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Magna Carta Libertatum is an official charter of rights agreed upon by the unpopular King John of England to make peace with a group of dissenting barons in 1215. The document promised rights such as protection from illegal incarceration, swift access to justice, and limits on feudal payments owed to the Crown. Although it was later annulled, leading to a civil war between the crown and the landowners, the Magna Carta remains a document of immense historical value. With only a handful of exemplified copies surviving in the 21st Century, this great charter (Magna Carta literally translates to 'The Great Charter') is currently worth around $21 Million and only two exemplified copies exist outside England, one owned by the Australian Government, the second was purchased by billionaire U.S. businessman David Rubenstein in 2007 for $21.3 million.
Holding the distinction of being the first book to be printed and published in British colonies that would later become America, the Bay Psalm Book was first printed in 1640 in Massachusetts. With only 11 copies of the first edition in existence, most are held at universities and notable public libraries across the United States. One of the eleven surviving copies of the first edition was sold at an auction in November 2013 for a whopping $14.2 million to billionaire financier David Rubenstein, a record-breaking sum for a printed book.
Currently in display at the National Library of Australia in Canberra, the Rothschild Prayer Book is a 16th Century Flemish collection of Christian texts, psalms, and illustrations originally owned by the wealthy Austrian banker Anselm Salomon von Rothschild and his descendants. Compiled by numerous acclaimed and distinguished artists of the period, this is a Renaissance-era prayer book of exquisite quality. The book has had quite an intriguing past as well; confiscated by the Nazis in 1938, Hitler gave it to the National Library in Vienna, and decades later, in 1999, the Austrian government returned the manuscript to its rightful owners, the Rothschilds. The book was most recently purchased in 2014 for $13.6 million by Australian businessman Kerry Stokes, setting the record for the highest amount ever fetched by an illuminated manuscript.
Comprising 435 hand-colored, life-sized engravings of a wide variety of birds of the United States, this is a book by the distinguished naturalist and painter John James Audubon. Originally published as a series between the years 1827 and 1838, it is a product of a gifted naturalist's determination to paint, in fabulous detail, every species of bird living in North America. It also contains images of several now-extinct species such as the Carolina Parakeet and Eskimo Curlew. With only 119 existing copies of the complete first edition surviving, this is a highly prized and sought after book, with one four-volume set raking in $11.5 Million in 2010 and another fetching $8.8 million at an auction in 2000. Altogether, copies of “Birds of America” have sold for more than $50 million.
A collection of 24 stories interlinked by common themes, written between 1387 and 1400, only a dozen original copies of the first edition of 'The Canterbury Tales' by fourteenth-century poet Geoffrey Chaucer are scattered around the world today. The book is told in the form of a story-telling contest among a diverse crew of pilgrims as they travel from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. Chaucer has perfectly used irony and a wide range of people from all classes to paint an unflattering picture of the customs and practices of English society at the time. A first edition of the book, previously owned by Earl Fitzwilliam - who originally bought it for just £6 - was sold in auction in 1998 for a hefty sum of $7.5 million to British billionaire Sir Paul Getty.
Also known as “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies,” this is a collection of plays by the most influential writer in the English language and the world’s most celebrated playwright. A literary treasure, the folio contains all but four of Shakespeare's plays. 750 copies of the folio were published seven years after Shakespeare's death in 1616, becoming the first authoritative collection of his life's work, and only 228 intact copies have survived. Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, purchased a copy for $6.2 Million in 2001 at an auction in New York City.
Best known for her globally popular 7-part Harry Potter fantasy series, Rowling also stands out as the only contemporary author to have sold a book, written and published in the 21st century, for a staggering $3.97 million. The tales of Beedle the Bard is a book consisting of five diverse, uniquely enchanting fairy tales, full of charm, humor, and thrill, given by Albus Dumbledore to Hermoine as a farewell present in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This fictional book gained such popularity among the Harry Potter fandom that Rowling wrote and illustrated 7 copies in her own handwriting, embellished them with silver and moonstones and encased them in morocco leather. Rowling gifted 6 copies to important people in her life, friends and editors who were instrumental in helping her create the Harry Potter series, selling the final copy at an auction for $3.97 million to benefit a children's charity. The Tales of Beedle the Bard is the most expensive and only modern manuscript to fetch such a price, and if you're a fan of Rowling's work, you're in luck, as you can buy a paperback copy of this book at Amazon for just $10, talk about a bargain price!
Interested in a rare, first-edition, signed by the author, or out-of-print book for your own collection? Check out Biblio.com