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World’s most expensive books

Andrea Divirgilio / December 26, 2011

In the world of digitization, the printed word takes on special value; especially if it happened to be rare and historically significant. Like any other historical works, collector books written by extraordinary thinkers, influential authors, scientists and the works of seminal masters whose legacies are impossible to ignore, always fetch enormous prices at auctions. To help you understand why the books like, Codex Leicester, The Birds of America and the St. Cuthbert gospel, to name a few, garner the title of being most expensive. We have compiled a list of most expensive books ever sold, take a look.

Most expensive books

The Birds of America

Price: $7.9 million

The Birds of America book on display

When talking of artifacts with exceptional merit and quality, it would be safe to assume that once sold at auctions, the owners would retain in for a considerable period of time. But it seems that the world’s most expensive book has a fate completely opposite to that. A rare first edition of John James Audubon’s illustrated book ‘The Birds of America’ earlier fetched record breaking price of $10.2 million at an auction held by Sotheby’s. This time again, this exceptional book went up on the auction block and fetched whopping $7.9 million in New York to a private American collector. Covering an extensive list of high quality photographs and detailing of each bird found in the American continent, this book was published over an 11-year period between 1827-1838. It is rather a 4-volume set, with each having 435 pages each, which are 3 feet in length, with samples of what many consider to be the greatest ornithological art ever. Each of the detailed illustrations were drawn and colored by hand, and considering the accuracy, it does stand out anything else, considering printing presses were not so much the norm back then. Also, this book was the rare one as out of those that were originally created, only 13 remain in existence today, all of which are in private hands.

Codex Leicester

Price: $30.8 million

Codex Leicester

How do you think the world’s most expensive book should look like? You might think of it with a diamond-studded cover or having gold plated page. But, it’s not like that. The most expensive book ever sold is the Codex Leicester, which is a collection of largely scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci.The 72-page handwritten document is in the form of 18 sheets of paper, each folded in half and written on both sides. Leonardo wrote the book in Italian and used mirror writing, copious drawings and diagrams.The Codex was bought by Bill Gates in 1994 for $30.8 million and given the name ‘Codex Leicester.’ The Codex is put on public display once a year in a different city around the world.

St. Cuthbert Gospel

Price: $14.3 million

St. Cuthbert Gospel

What is definitely one of the world’s most historically important books, a 900-year old copy of the St. Cuthbert Gospel has been bought by the British Library for $14.3 million. This is one of the rare European books, which still exists in entirety and doesn’t not bear the signs of aging those others books of its kind usually do. The original leather cover and pages inside are in top notch condition still. For hundreds of years, it is known to have been a part of the coffin in which St. Cuthbert was buried, until it was suspected to be in the city of Durham. From there, it is known to have landed in procession of the Earl of Lichfield, who in turn passed it to a local priest, who later handed it to local Jesuits of Europe. It was even located in Stonyhurst, due to which it got its name.

The Task (Die Aufgabe)

Price: $200.9 million (153 Million EUR)

The Task surpasses Codex Leicester

How do you feel about paying 153 million Euros to read a 13-page book? I know you’re calling me names for asking such a question but since German writer Tomas Alexander Hartman has come out with that ungodly price tag for his latest book, I thought I’d try and gauge public opinion on the matter. Incredible as it is but the internationally invisible author has entered the world’s most expensive book in the register of the German Books in Print (VLB) announcing there will only ever be one copy of the book in the markets. The Task (aka Die Aufgabe) will make its first public appearance at the Book Expo America 2008 Fair in LA from May 29-June 1, 2008 and will subsequently appear at the Buch Wein Fair. The narcissistic Hartmann believes himself to be the greatest philosopher of all and claims that since it took him thirty years to complete the 13 pages of the book, he is justified in asking for 1.53 Million EUR for a single copy. A more cost effective measure might be to visit the Linz International Book Fair which lasts from April 23rd to 27th, and see Hartman introduce his philosophical poems in person. But even that limited edition of thousand copies is expected to cost 1530 EUR each. Codex Leicester can take a hike, because Hartman has already announced a raise in the price. Heaven forbid if the book won any awards, the price might be raised further still. Personally, if I had that kinda money to spend on a 13-page poetry book, I’d rather buy a country or two with it!

Gold-inlaid book of Vietnamese king Thieu Tri

Price: $100,000

Vietnam's most expensive edition

Like any other historical works, collector books fetch enormous prices at auctions. The antique art collector Cao XuanTruong’s gold-inlaid book of Vietnamese king Thieu Tri is being named as one of the most expensive books for its historical value and price. Auctioned in Paris, Truong purchased the book for $100,000, brought it home to Vietnam. The King Thieu Tri during his reign from 1841-1847, gifted this book to his concubine Vu Thi Vien in 1846. With carvings of dragon and186 Chinese scripts about the concubine, this historical 5-sheet book weighs nearly 2 kilograms and is sized 14 x 23 cm. This gold-plated book is art collector Truong’s favorite item amongst his other collectible artifacts, and he struggled a lot to get this book back to his country. As Truong says, for the first time he heard about the book from a friend in France was in 2002, and he then first saw the book in 2004. Touched and moved by seeing and holding this unique antique, Truong went to France for over ten times as a part of his efforts to bring back the book to its origin, Vietnam. The book was owned by a retired General of France who joined the Vietnam war, Truong persuaded the French man to sell the book but remained unsuccessful. Until in 2010, When Truong came to now that book will be auctioned; he successfully overcame Chinese and Western clients to own the book. To achieve this task he had to sell his house in Canada, for which the collector says that he can buy another house, but if he might have failed to own the book in auction, he would have no chance to get back the book to Vietnam. Mr. Truong has no plans to sell the book, perhaps he would present it to Vietnamese museum. As per Dr. Tran Duc Anh Son, the Hue Royal Art Museum’s former director, this silver made gold-gilded book is the only historical Vietnamese book that still exists.

Golf book

Price: $48,000

Most expensive golf book

For the wealthy golfer who doesn’t mind spending a lot of moolah on making a style statement on the greens, Wonderland Publications has a better idea to hone your golfing skills first with their $48,000 Luxury Golf Folio. The world’s most luxurious and unique golf publication, called Golf, is available in two different editions: the “Luxury Edition” starting at $48k and the “Collector Edition” priced at an affordable $630. This golf bible is an editorialized art collection that tells the story of the game, the terrain with contributions from over 50 individuals worldwide in the golf industry. The golf manuscript has an impressive size of over 3 feet wide, is 18 inches high and 5 inches thick, weighing at 82 pounds, featuring 18 chapters with 140 pages of content. According to co-author, Weitzman, “Our mission has been to create a satirical, informed work of prose and art, designed to capture the true spirit of the game from it’s formative growth, through to the realities of the recent financial depression, and on towards new and exciting horizons.” The luxury details include: handmade creation, paper is hand torn and the folio is bound into an extremely rare 400-year-old Russian Hide leather cover. The luxury edition is embellished with ornate gold blocking and elaborate gold furnishings. The art masterpiece is based on the design of a 14th century medieval bible, and is available in a limited edition of 10 only signed and numbered by the artists and Colin Montgomerie. It is delivered in an oak slipcase box. The “Collector Edition” comprises of 18 chapters, with 320 pieces of editorialized content, and is a compendium of “Golf,” the “Luxury Edition,” limited to 2100. Check out the most luxurious golf carts and golfing gear for the wealthy golfers.

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