It’s common knowledge that rare and extraordinary items gets sold at high prices, and books are no different. You can go to your local bookstore and buy books for $10 and upwards, but there are some books that are priced much, much higher. Most of the time, the value comes from their rarity and/or age.
Today we’ll be taking a look at the top 10 books and documents that were ever sold, ranked by their sale prices. We’ll go over the books themselves, the sale price and talk about the buyers a little. Keep in mind that we’re listing inflation adjusted prices, so that you can fully appreciate the value of these works. Without further ado, let’s check out these insanely expensive books and find out the most valuable book in the world!
10) The Cantenbury Tales – $10.9 Million
Geoffrey Caucher‘s best known work is our today’s list opener. Written in the 14th century, The Cantenbury Tales is a collection of stories written in verses and prose. A total of 24 stories is contained in the book, crossing 17,000 lines of text. This piece is considered one of the most important books in the entire English literature history. The book describers the travels of a group of pilgrims, and using them ironically criticizes the English society of that time. The first printed edition of the book was sold in 1998 to the Mags brothers, and is the last copy in private hands.
9) Les Liliacées – $11 Million
Les Liliacées is a book containing over 460 watercolor paintings of flowers. Painted by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, famous botanical painter, this book was one of the fastest selling auctioned items ever. It was sold in under 3 minutes in 1985 to Walter Graham Arader, for $5,5 million. Mr. Arader is an American art dealer, who considers the purchase a bargain. He sold 60/100 shares at $64,000 a piece. A single share contained 4 paintings, and one of the share buyers was Steve Jobs, an obsessive collector of Redouté’s works.
8) and 7) The Birds of America – $12.1 and $12.5 Million
Two copies of John J. Audubon‘s The Birds of America were sold at extraordinary prices, and they are both taking our #8 and #7 spots respectively. The book contains illustrations of various birds that could be found in the United States. Six of the birds are extinct as of today. The first copy, taking the 8th place, was sold in 2000 for $12,1 million, and the second was sold 10 years later for $400,000 more. There are only 119 copies of the book in the world, making them extremely rare to come by, and rising their prices.
6) Bay Psalm Book – $14.4 Million
The value of this unsigned book, called the Bay Psalm Book is in its age. You see, it is the first ever book published on the territory of today’s United States, and as such holds an immense value. The book contains psalms that were translated into English. It was written only 20 years after the arrival of the pilgrims. There are eleven copies of this book in the entire world, only five or which are complete. One of them was sold to David Rubenstein who then donated it to Duke University. Mr. Rubenstein is one of the richest people in the world, with a net worth of $2.5 billion. He bought the book in 2013 for $14.4 million.
5) St Cuthbert Gospel – $14.7 Million
By far the oldest book in this list is the St Cuthbert Gospel, written during the 7th century by unknown authors. The value of this Latin gospel book comes from its age and outstanding condition in which it was kept. This book’s size is another unusual thing – it’s a pocket book with wooden covers. St Cuthbert Gospel was sold to The British Libary in 2012, when they paid almost 15 million USD for it. However, the book is a great rarity, and it’s good to know that it’s stored safely in a library.
4) Rotschild Prayerbook – $19 Million
Rotschild Prayerbook, also called Rotschild Hours, is an illuminated manuscript book containing prayers and religious paintings. It was written and illustrated by numerous people in the 16th century. This book holds a high price due to its condition and the massive amount of religious texts found inside, unmatched by most others. In 1999 it was bought by an anonymous bidder for $19 million. The buyer remained anonymous until 2014, when it was published that Kerry Stokes, an Australian businessman, was the one. Stokes’ net worth is around $2 billion and is best known for being the chairman of the Seven Network.
3) Magna Carta – $24.3 Million
Magna Carta (Great Charter) is one of the world’s most well-known charters. A charter is a document that grants certain rights to the receiver. The purpose of Magna Carta was to make peace between the unpopular English king, John Lackland, and some rebel barons. It granted the barons rights and protection, but the pact was broken shortly after, which lead to a war. The exemplified copy of the document was sold in 2007 to previously mentioned Mr. Rubenstein for just over 24 million dollars.
2) Gospels of Henry the Lion – $27 Million
Henry the Lion was one of the most powerful German princes of the 12th century. His gospel book was made somewhere during the late 12th century, and was displayed at the Brunswick Cathedral. Gospels of Henry the Lion is a 266 pages long manuscript, frequently called one of the masterpieces of the age. It was sold all the way back in 1983, for an amount equivalent to today’s $27 million! Several organizations and private donors raised the funds and made the purchase possible.
1) Codex Leicester – $49.2 Million
By far the most expensive book ever sold, Codex Leicester takes our number one spot with a price of $49.2 million! The version that sold for that amount was obviously the original, written by the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci himself. In the book, Da Vinci noted down his scientific writings and it is the best known diary of the Leonardo Da Vinci. It was bought by Bill Gates, world’s richest man, in November 1994 and it still holds the record 22 years later.
The Gutenberg Bible, the first book ever printed, almost made the list, with a sale price of close to $11 million in 1987.
US Declaration of Independece was sold (or bought, depending on how you look at it) in 1991 for $3,8 million. Obviously we are talking about the original, signed by the 56 delegates.
Action Comics #1, a comic book in which Superman was introduced is considered to be the world’s most expensive and valuable comic book. It was sold in 2014 for $3.2 million.
The most expensive book from this century is J.K. Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle The Bard sold for $4.5 million in 2007.