10 of The Most Expensive Books Ever Sold

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Have you ever found yourself browsing the shelves of your favorite bookstore and aghast at the price of hardcovers? Or felt personally wounded when your favorite author’s new book comes in at more than $20?

You may wonder how come these books are so costly, and who would ever want them to read if these are so costly. You are in pain because you might have wanted to read, but you can’t afford to buy any of these because of their price tag. Well, this post might make you feel a little better.

List of the Most Expensive Books in the World

IMAGEPRODUCTFEATURESPRICE
The Gutenberg BibleThe Gutenberg Bible• Print length: 1400 pages
• Publication date: July 5, 2018
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Traité des Arbres FruitiersTraité des Arbres Fruitiers• Print length: 516 pages
• Publication date: July 30, 2018
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Birds of AmericaBirds of America• Print length: 144 pages
• Publication date: April 15, 2020
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The Rothschild Prayer BookThe Rothschild Prayer Book• Print length: 64 pages
• Publication date: April 1, 2016
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The Bay Psalm BookThe Bay Psalm Book• Print length: 264 pages
• Publication date: May 12, 2018
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The Magna CartaThe Magna Carta• Print length: 288 pages
• Publication date: October 20, 2015
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The Tales of Beedle the BardThe Tales of Beedle the Bard• Publication date: January 12, 2017Check Price
The Gospel of Henry the LionThe Gospel of Henry the Lion• Publication date: January 1, 1983Check Price
The Codex LeicesterThe Codex Leicester• Print length: 168 pages
• Publication date: January 1, 2001
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The Book of MormonThe Book of Mormon• Print length: 779 pages
• Publication date: July 1, 1981
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Here’s a list of the most expensive books in the world that money can buy.

1. The Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible
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The Gutenberg Bible goes down in history as the first-ever book printed with movable, metal-type print.

Originally produced in 1455 in Mainz, Germany, the book marked the beginning of the ‘Gutenberg Revolution,’ shifting book production from arduous hand-copying into the modern-day printing press we know today.

Only 49 of the original 185 copies still survive, and many of those are incomplete.

The last time a complete Gutenberg Bible came up for auction was in 1987 when it was snapped up by a leading Japanese bookseller, Maruzen Co. Ltd, for a whopping $4.9 million, breaking the current world record at the time for the most expensive book ever sold.

But if you happen to stumble across an incomplete copy buried away in the attack, you could still be sitting on a goldmine. In June of 2015, Sotheby’s in New York auctioned off just eight pages of the Gutenberg Bible for a phenomenal $970,000.

2. Traité des Arbres Fruitiers

Traité des Arbres Fruitiers
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Traité des Arbres Fruitiers, or Treatise of Fruit Trees, is an eighteenth-century French manuscript written by a leading botanist of the day, Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau.

The book is exactly what the title says; a treatise, or a formal written work, on the physiology of fruit trees.

Exquisitely illustrated by Pierre Antoine Poiteau and Pierre Jean François Turpin, it features sixteen varieties of various species of fruit trees. But it’s not just the vivid illustrations or in-depth scientific analysis that makes this book so valuable; it’s the fact that it’s so rare.

In 2006, a mint condition five-volume set of Traité des Arbres Fruitiers sold for a staggering 3.4 million euros, around $4.5 million. While it may not have broken the record of the most expensive book ever sold, it certainly took the top spot for the most expensive book about fruit trees.

3. Birds of America

Birds of America
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Keeping on the theme of the natural world, the next eye-wateringly expensive book on our list is Birds of America, by naturalist and painter John James Audubon.

Audubon’s work was originally published as an ongoing series of beautifully illustrated, hand-colored life-sized prints depicting numerous species of North American birds.

The series was published between 1827 and 1838 before the entire collection was gathered into a compendium entitled Birds of America.

It was a beautiful book, and even when it was first published, it was quite valuable. But these days, Birds of America commands a breath-taking sum of money.

In March 2000, one copy broke the world record for the most expensive book ever sold at auction. The wealthy buyer was Qatar’s Sheik Saud Al-Thani, who parted with a whopping $8.8 million for his copy.

Yet in 2010, the record was surpassed when London art dealer Michael Tollemache purchased a copy for a staggering $11.5 million. The book came from the collection of Frederick Fermor-Hesketh, 2nd Baron Hesketh, who paid ÂŁ7,000 for it at a Christie’s auction back in 1951.

But why do Birds of America come with such a colossal price tag? It’s partly because today, only 119 copies remain, and only thirteen of those are in the hands of private collectors.

Another contributing factor to its value is that of the hundreds of birds depicted, several of them are now extinct, including the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, the Labrador duck, the pinnated grouse, and the great auk.

4. The Rothschild Prayer Book

The Rothschild Prayer Book
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The Rothschild Prayerbook, otherwise known as Rothschild Hours, is an early sixteenth-century Flemish illuminated manuscript.

This 500-year-old cultural artifact is a ‘book of hours,’ a Christian devotional book used for prayer. It was painstakingly created by monastic scribes and numerous lauded artists, and these days, it’s considered a Renaissance masterpiece.

For centuries, the book was held in secret possession by the Rothschild dynasty (hence its common name). But in 1938, the book was stolen from the family’s estate by the Nazis.

Now, however, The Rothschild Prayerbook can be found on display in Canberra at the National Library of Australia after an anonymous bidder purchased it in 1999 for a world record-breaking $13.4 million.

For the next five years, the buyer remained a mystery until he was finally revealed to be Australian billionaire Kerry Stokes.

“Hopefully, this book is one of the reasons in the future people will come to Australia,” Stokes said when questioned about his costly investment. “They will come to us and see the various offerings that we have culturally and commercially. But we will have something else to offer that nobody else has, and that’s the Rothschild Prayerbook.”

5. The Bay Psalm Book

The Bay Psalm Book
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Many of the world’s most expensive books are religious texts from Europe. But this next one originated across the pond in the earliest settlements of what would later become the United States of America.

The Bay Psalm Book was created in 1640 by puritan pilgrims in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This little collection of Psalms was the first book ever printed in the New World, which is why it’s considered one of the most valuable Christian texts anywhere on earth.

The original print run consisted of around 1,700 copies, but there are just eleven in existence today, most of them owned by libraries, museums, and universities.

Yet one copy remains in private hands after it was sold for a staggering $14.2 million to American businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein in 2013.

Previously, it had belonged to Boston’s historic Old South Church, the home of the Boston Tea Party meetings and the place where founding father Benjamin Franklin was baptized. The church had two copies, one of which it still holds today.

The Old South Church’s senior minister, Reverend Nancy Taylor, called it a “spectacular book, arguably one of the most important books in this nation’s history.”

6. The Magna Carta

The Magna Carta
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This famous thirteenth-century charter is one of the most influential texts in history. Drafted in 1215 by the Archbishop of Canterbury under the rule of King John, it solidified the basic human rights of the people of England and limited the powers of the monarchy.

Many of the acts in this document are still in use today, and its influence on global politics has spread far beyond the island of Great Britain.

And so naturally, owning an early version of this pre-eminent text will make you very rich indeed.

There are just 17 known copies that predate the year 1300, and in 2007, one of them went up for auction in Sotheby’s in New York, selling for a breath-taking sum of $21.3 million.

Rumor has it that the buyer was American billionaire David Rubenstein, the same David Rubenstein who purchased the Bay Psalm Book listed above. Building quite the library, Rubenstein was keen on preserving a copy on his home turf of the United States.

After all, the founding fathers took much of their inspiration for the Declaration of Independence from the Magna Carta, so this ancient text has huge historical significance on both sides of the pond.

7. The Tales of Beedle the Bard

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
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In a list of ancient manuscripts, JK Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard stands out as the most expensive contemporary book of all time.

Published in 2007 after the conclusion of the legendary Harry Potter series, Rowling produced just seven copies.

Each one is handwritten, bound in bejeweled leather, and packed with hand-drawn illustrations by the author herself.

If you’re a Potterhead, you might recognize this famous title. The Tales of Beedle the Bard appears as a fictional storybook in the final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Six of the seven copies she produced were given to close friends, but one made it to auction, where it was snapped up by a mega-fan for a cool $3.98 million.

But Rowling didn’t keep the staggering sum for herself; instead, she donated the money to The Children’s Voice charity campaign.

Fans with a more modest bank balance can still get their hands on this fascinating addition to the beloved Harry Potter series, as in 2008, the author released a reprint, which you can buy for the much more reasonable sum of $13.80.

8. The Gospel of Henry the Lion

The Gospel of Henry the Lion
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Henry the Lion was the nickname of the Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, who reigned between 1142 and 1180. As one of the most powerful princes in Germany, he personally commissioned this exquisite 266-page gospel book to be displayed in the City of Braunschweig’s famous Brunswick Cathedral.

Produced long before the printing press, the text is considered a masterpiece, painstakingly handwritten and exquisitely illustrated with more than fifty Romanesque depictions of the four gospels of Christ.

In December of 1983, The Gospel of Henry the Lion made its way to Sotheby’s Auction House in London, England, where it sold for an astonishing ÂŁ8,140,000, the equivalent of $11.7 million.

At that time, it was the most expensive book sale in history, a record that was only surpassed in 1994 with the next book on our list.

Nowadays, The Gospel of Henry the Lion resides in pristine condition in WolfenbĂĽttel’s Herzog August Library, in its home country of Germany.

Most of the time, it’s kept strictly under lock and key, but once every two years, The Gospel of Henry the Lion is displayed for the public. So, if you’re making a pilgrimage to visit old Henry, make sure you time it right.

9. The Codex Leicester

The Codex Leicester
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The Codex Leicester is a 72-page notebook filled with fascinating theories from one of the world’s most brilliant minds, Leonardo da Vinci.

The buyer was none other than Mr. Microsoft, Bill Gates, who purchased the Codex Leicester in 1994 for a record-breaking sum of $30.8 million.

Da Vinci penned these insights between 1506 and 1510, but long before they ended up in Bill Gates’ possession, they were purchased by Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, in 1717, which explains the books’ cryptic name.

The text remained in the Leicester estate until 1980, when it was purchased by a collector, who later sold it on for an astounding sum to Mr. Gates.

Of all the books on this list, it stands to reason that Codex Leicester fetched the highest price. Leonardo da Vinci is one of history’s most celebrated thinkers, and this book offers a unique insight into the way his brilliant mind worked.

Da Vinci always traveled with a notebook, recording his studies in mechanics, human anatomy, painting, architecture, botany, geology, and more. This particular book consists of 18 sheets of paper, which are folded to create a 72-page booklet, handwritten in Italian by Leonardo himself.

And thankfully, Gates didn’t keep his purchase all to himself. Instead, he shared Da Vinci’s genius with the world, scanning the Codex Leister’s pages to make a Windows 95 screensaver. 

10. The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon
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The current world record for the most expensive book ever sold is The Book of Mormon, the central religious text of the Church of Latter-Day Saints.

The original handwritten draft was dictated in 1830 by the church’s founder, Mr. Joseph Smith, who translated what he claimed were ancient inscriptions in solid gold tablets, which he discovered near his home in Palmyra, New York.

Smith’s manuscript was then printed by E.B. Grandin and gifted to a founding member of the Mormon church, which considers its contents to be a factual account of real-world history drawn from the writings of ancient prophets.

The text was used to create the earliest copies of the Book of Mormon and laid the foundations for the religious movement that dominates much of the United States today.

In 2017, the original handwritten printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon was reclaimed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for a jaw-dropping $35 million. This makes it the most expensive manuscript ever sold, even beating Bill Gates’s previous record-breaking purchase of Codex Leicester.

Conclusion

If your book-buying habit is burning a hole in your pocket, remember, it could be worse.

After reading about the record-breaking book sales above, your Barnes and Noble purchases might not seem so extravagant after all.

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