As the world progress into a more advanced stage of modernity, it is no secret that the prices of books have undergone a tremendous transformation. What were once scrolls made out of mere papyrus plants soon evolved into sophisticated and well-detailed compilations of words that are made specifically for the cultured and the well-read.
Book enthusiasts all share a special appreciated for books. This is especially true as physical books become less and less common in our modern world. In fact, some of the most culturally significant books have sold for exorbitant amounts of money.
However, although it’s common to discover books with price tags that are way out of your budget, knowing outrageously astronomical certain books are might leave you thunderstruck in disbelief. To give you a clue on just how much some people are willing to spend in the name of their love for literature, we have compiled a list of 10 of the most expensive books ever sold in history.
10. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling
Price: $3.98 million
Perhaps, it can be safely said, that no other young adult writer has managed to achieve the fame and prestige J.K. Rowling has secured in the past few years. Most known for her much-loved Harry Potter novels, this British author made her mark in history by becoming the first writer to hit the $1 billion mark.
With her undeniable commercial success, it is no wonder that many avid readers are willing to spend a few dollars just to get their hands on her writings. In fact, in 2016, a handwritten and jeweled edition of her limited-edition children’s book, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” was sold for a whopping $3.98 million. This makes it the most expensive modern manuscript to date.
9. The Gutenberg Bible
Price: $5 million
Recognized to be among the earliest major books printed using mass-produced movable metal type in Europe, The Gutenberg Bible comes in as the 9th most expensive piece of literature ever sold.
Printed by Johannes Gutenberg himself, the Gutenberg Bible is said to be originally made with around 180 copies. However, only 48 were said to have made it until this day, in which only 31 remain to be in perfect condition.
In 1987, one of the remaining copies of this 42-line Bible was sold at an auction for a staggering €4.6 million – that’s equivalent to around $5 million!
8. Shakespeare’s First Folio
Price: $6.2 million
Who else would deserve to have his writings sold for more than a million-dollars other than the greatest English playwright himself? Widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist, William Shakespeare has long been considered the most influential writer of all time.
With this, it is no wonder that when a book containing all his comedies, histories, and tragedies was put in an auction in 2011, Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, was more than willing to spend about €5.6 million or $6.2 million just to have a copy of it.
7. The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
Price: $7.5 million
Coming up next on our list is none other than Chaucer’s famous tales of medieval misadventures, “The Canterbury Tales.” First printed in 1477, only a dozen copies of the first edition of this English literary masterpiece remain to be in existence to date.
In 1988, one of these remaining rare copies was put in an auction, prompting the late British billionaire John Paul Getty Jr. to offer a staggering $7.5 million bid just to secure his possession on it. To date, this makes the extremely rare copy become the seventh most expensive book ever sold in history.
6. Birds of America
Price: $11.5 million
Originally made by the naturalist and painter John James Audubon, Birds of America serves as a portal to the natural world with its 435 life-size watercolors of various birds found in the United States. Carrying immense historical and ornithological importance, the book was widely considered to be the archetype of wildlife illustration.
To date, only 119 complete first edition copies of the ‘Birds of America’ are believed to be in existence. In 2000, one of the four-volume sets of the book was sold to a Qatari prince for $8.8 million. 10 years later, another copy was purchased for $11.5 million in London. And finally, in 2012, another full edition of the book was sold for $7.9 million. Overall, the three copies of full edition “Birds of America” were totaled to have been sold at more than $26 million.
5. The Rothschild Prayerbook
Price: $13.6 million
Also called ‘Rothschild Hours,’ this Flemish illuminated manuscript of incredible paintings made by master Renaissance miniaturists stands as the 5th most expensive book in the world.
Its name can be traced back to the wealthy clan of Rothschild who acquired the book in 1868. In 1999, it was first sold to an anonymous bidder. About 15 years, the book was then again purchased by an Australian businessman for a whopping $13.6 million.
4. St Cuthbert Gospel
Price: $14 million
Named to be the earliest European book that displays the first example of bookbinding, ‘St Cuthbert Gospel’ is a pocket gospel book written in Latin from the 8th century. It was originally unearthed in 1104, along with the remains of its owner and writer, St. Cuthbert. Despite being 1,300 years old, the book is said to be in remarkably good condition.
Centuries later, the book was sold in an auction in 2012 for the big price of $14 million. To date, the inflation-adjusted price is estimated to be $15.5 million.
3. The Bay Psalm Book
Price: $14.165 million
Printed in 1650, The Bay Psalm Book is most known for being the first printed book in British North America. All in all, only 11 copies of the first edition of the book were known to have existed, one of which was sold at an auction in 1947 for $151,000. Over 6 decades later, the copy was then again sold at the high price of $14.165 million by billionaire David Rubenstein.
2. The Magna Carta
Price: $21.3 million
Serving as a charter drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and agreed to by King John of England, this rare 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta now stands as the second most expensive writing ever sold in history.
In 2007, Washington businessman David Rubenstein bought the copy at an overwhelming price of $21.3 million to prevent an overseas bidder from taking it out of the United States.
1. The Codex Leicester, Leonardo da Vinci
Price: $30.8 million
At last, for the most expensive writing ever sold, no other manuscript has ever topped Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Codex Leicester.’ Serving as Da Vinci’s scientific journal, this 72-page notebook provides a rare glimpse inside the Italian genius’ mind.
The manuscript is said to contain sketches, diagrams, and early iterations of ideas from Da Vinci on a wide variety of topics, including the movement of water, why the moon glows, and many more. In 1994, the journal was purchased by no other than Bill Gates himself at the unbeatable price of $30.8 million.
Who says books are obsolete? Carrying ominous historical, cultural, and artistic significance, these 10 writings proved that each word comes with a high price and undeniable influence.
Which among these book prices shocked you the most?
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