The 10 Most Expensive Books

posted by Anneliese Müller

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The 10 Most Expensive Books
1. Codex Leicester
2. Magna Carta
3. St. Cuthbert Gospel
4. Bay Psalm Book
5. Rothschild Prayerbook
6. Gospels of Henry the Lion
7. The Birds of America
8. The Canterbury Tales
9. Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies
10. Gutenberg Bible

Think about all the things you own. You have got your clothes, your house, car, electronics and all sorts of items that make you happy or at least make your life easier. Now think about how much everything costs.

You bought some of your clothes on sale, while some were bought for special events so you spent more than half of your salary on them. Your parents gave you their old car as graduation gift and the house used to be your grandma’s. They might cost or at least used to cost a small fortune, but at least you did not have to starve yourself for months in order to afford them.

Your phone came with an offer so it ended up being 50% off, while your TV came for free with the washing machine you bought from your neighbor. The computer has suffered some modifications when you turned it from a simple old PC into the best gaming computer anyone could have. But what about books?

Your own private library

It does not really matter if you are an avid reader, because even the most illiterate people still have a collection of books, just to show them off in their brand new living room cabinet. Because let’s face it – having a collection of hard cover books with golden letters printed on their leather cover and a silk bookmark gives anyone a little bit of class.

But your books are more than decoration. They are part of your life. Those are the books you used to read as a child, the ones that got you through school years, the ones that helped you grow up and those that made you feel good. Out of your entire collection, you can recall receiving some of them as birthday presents or getting them from school.

the top 10 most expensive books listSome you even forgot to return to the library for 15 years. And whereas most of them were passed to you by your relatives, you did buy most of the newest and hottest names on the market, either if we are talking about ebooks or not.

Some were cheap, some were so cheap that the shipping cost you more than the actual book and some made you look at the receipt and ask yourself what was in your mind. Yet, no tome you ever bought costs as much as the books we are about to present.

They are not just books

The common misconception is that books should not cost that much, especially old ones, because of their quality and degrading state. The new ones one can find in libraries are all shiny, smell better than an expensive perfume and have the most attractive covers. So, often people buy new editions only because they are more appealing, despite already owning a few older copies.

In fact, a volume consisting of Shakespeare’s sonnets is quite likely to be ignored or sold for just a few cents because you can find everything written by Shakespeare, which survived time, for free on the internet. But just like a treasure made of gold and jewels or an old painting, books are equally valuable. And here we are going to present you the most expensive book in this world.

10. “Gutenberg Bible”

most expensive books list

Also known as the “Mazarin Bible”, the “Gutenberg Bible” represents an iconic moment in the history of printings and books – the beginning of the Gutenberg Revolution – by being the first important tome created movable type in mass production.

There are 48 such Bibles surviving to the present day, some decorated using the illumination technique, while some keeping their original binding.

$10.2 millions ($4.9 original price)

The Bible was a success right from the start, despite its spicy price and became an influence on the following attempts of printing. Today, most copies are found in European institutions, including the Austrian National Library from Vienna, Gutenberg Museum from Mainz and the British Library of London, while few are still in religious institutions.

Some issues were bought for quite remarkable prices, drawing more attention – especially from the thieves – to the importance and value of the Bible.

9. “Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies”

most expensive books list

The 1623 anthology containing of 36 of Shakespeare’s plays such as “the Tempest”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Hamlet”, “King Lear”), the “First Folio” is a reminiscence of the start and early development of printing, as well as one of the best early versions of Shakespeare’s work, despite the eventual corrections.

“First Folio” is so recognized in the theater world that some directors prefer using this version to the more modern ones.

$8.2 millions ($6.1 original price)

While its original price was between 15 shillings and 1 pound, “Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies” ended up being one of the most expensive volumes ever printed. Its fame, cultural importance and especially its value made it a target for thieves, one managing to steal an issue of the 82 existing back in 2008. The volume was eventually recovered and it will accompany other Folios in a tour to celebrate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death.

8. “The Canterbury Tales”

most expensive books ever

Better known as the basis of the English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer’s 24 stories written in Middle English, dated back to the 14th century, are still an enigma and an influence.

Still not knowing whether “The Canterbury Tales” is complete and none of the discovered 83 manuscripts being the actual original, the tales differ from copy to copy, similarly to spoken legends.

$10.0 millions ($7.5 original price)

Despite not being the most artistic due to exposure which has the damaged the parchment, the first edition, which is also the first book ever to be printed in England, The copy belonged to the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam and it had been in his family since he procured it in 1776 until 1996, when it was sold once more.

7. “The Birds of America”

most expensive books lsit

The two copies out of the known 119 to exist are a collection of John James Audubon’s work and interest in nature and painting.

Using mostly the techniques of watercolors, pastel crayons, charcoal, chalk and ink, Audubon illustrated on paper not copies of other naturalists’ work, but his own actual like size depictions of dead birds.

Yet, using real dead birds was difficult for the young painter, so, in order to continue and complete his work, he attracted sponsors by exhibiting the illustrations. The princeps edition had the impressive size of 39.5 inches x 28.5 inches and was the conclusion of already many sacrifices and researches.

$12.5 and $12.1 millions ($11.5 and $8.8 original prices)

Having fans such as the royals Charles X, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, Lord Spencer and the American politicians Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, but also considering its importance in science and ornithology, the copies of “The Birds of America” have been constantly exhibited in museums such as the Stark Museum of Art from Texas and North Carolina Museum of Art.

Out of the entire collection, 13 issues are owned by private collectors such as the Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Quatar, who obtained a print for $8.8 million back in 2000, while the latest acquisition of a “The Birds of America” copy was in 2012 for the price of $7.9 million.

6. “Gospels of Henry the Lion”

most expensive books list

Dating back to the 12th century, “Gospels of Henry the Lion” is a masterwork designed in the Romanesque style. Created for the Virgin Mary altar from St. Blaise’s Abbey, the heavily designed manuscript has no known author, though it was identified that it was commissioned by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony at Helmarshausen Abbey.

$27.8 millions ($11.7 original price)

The gospel book has a total of 266 pages telling the teachings of the gospels, 50 of artistic depictions of the events in strong dark tones of red, blue and brown. Despite being auctioned for £8,140,000 in 1983, the tome is preserved in Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbuttel, library which allows it being exposed only once every two years.

5. “Rothschild Prayerbook”

expensive books toplist

Not much is known about the background of this book, not even the author, therefore being presumed to have been more authors.

The Flemish prayer book, assumed to have been written at the beginning of the 16th century, has a total of 140 pages, out of which 67 are made entirely of miniatures of flowers, insects, meticulous landscapes and biblical characters. Some of the illustrations were made by panel painter Gerard David and Simon Bening.

$19 millions ($13.4 original price)

The book used to belong to the Wittelsbach family in the 16th century and 300 years later it was in the possession of the Viennese Rothschild family. The book was estranged from its owners during World War II, but years after the war, the book was given back to the Rothschild family, along other belongings. The tome was eventually auctioned and bought by the Australian billionaire Kerry Strokes for £8,195,783.

4. “Bay Psalm Book”

most expensive books ever

The official first book to have been printed in the nowadays United States of America, “Bay Psalm Book” was created as the result of the colonists not being content with the translations brought by the early travelers.

A group of well taught pious men was hired to redo the Hebrew to English translation in a more faithful manner to the original text.

Produced by the Stephen Day press, the book’s first edition was sold in 1700 copies. Later, in the following editions, hymns, spiritual songs and music were added to it.

$14.7 millions ($14.2 original price)

The 11 existing copies, with only 5 of them being complete, are held in important institutions such as Yale, Brown and Harvard Universities to show the vital role of the book in the building of the American society. One of them was purchased by David Rubenstein, a well-known philanthropist, for $14,165,000 in 2013, making it the book with the highest price ever to be bought.

3. “St. Cuthbert Gospel”

The 10 Most Expensive Books

The oldest existing most expensive book is the “St. Cuthbert Gospel”. A relatively small item, the Anglo-Saxon gospel volume was made to be a rather ordinary pocket book written in Latin.

Yet what made it surprisingly original and very expensive is not only its old age, but its details. The gospel was put together in a very detailed decorated red goatskin binding, the patterns being traced to be a mix of Anglo-Saxon and Mediterranean designs, to which were added meticulous artwork depicting events from the book.

$14.7 millions ($14.3 original price)

Found in the tomb of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, the book passed from the Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey to Durham Cathedral to collectors in the time of Henry VIII, to Stonyhurst College, to eventually the British Library. The “St. Cuthbert Gospel” was lend to other museums and galleries for specific exhibitions.

2. “Magna Carta”

most expensive books toplist

“Magna Carta Liberatum” or “the Great Charter of Liberties” was initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury with the permission of King John of England.

Bearing a high historical relevance, the 1215 document started with a promise regarding church rights, illegal imprisonment, justice and payments, in order to establish a state of peace between the king and barons.

The charter was later annulled, only to be slightly edited and brought back. The following kings made use of it, making various alterations or completing it by introducing new laws.

“ The symbol of liberty and rights ”

$24.3 millions ($21.3 original price)

This symbol of liberty and rights, whose first, ninth and twenty-ninth clauses are still part of the English law, has turned 800 years in 2015 and it was celebrated by bringing together the only 4 remaining copies of the first original act in the British Library and having an embroidery crated after its Wikipedia page.

1. “Codex Leicester”

most expensive books list

“Codex Leicester” or “Codex Hammer, named after its previous owners, Armand Hammer and Thomas Coe, Earl of Leicester, is a vast collection containing Leonardo writings (18 double documents forming a total of 72 pages written between 1506 and 1510).

The areas of research include fossils, the circulation of water and an early theory regarding planet shine.

$49.2 millions ($30.8 original price)

The original and only copy existing of da Vinci’s notebook is currently owned by Bill Gates, who bought it in 1994. Besides using a digitalized version of the Codex for his business back in the 90s by sharing it on CD-ROMs. Yet, for the past 22 years, the collection has been travelling across the world, being sheltered by various important museums. The latest sop was in North Carolina Museum of Art, where “Codex Leicester” was exposed from October 2015 until January 2016.


Anneliese Müller (see all articles)

I am 22 years old, but I have the soul and mind of a 13 year old. Part time nerd, full time dreamer. 100% bookaholic. Future president, current sleepy head painter.

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