While reading and collecting books might be a popular hobby for a lot of people, it often comes as a surprise when the price tag is viewed on the front. Oftentimes, I have seen people being shocked at the retail price of new books and indeed, old books!
Now, there are various reasons for some wild prices for some books, such as their rarity or importance – and this can significantly inflate a price.
So, for those of you who were previously shocked at a book costing $20, you’re going to find these prices unbelievable! So, if you’re ready to find out the most expensive books ever sold – then read on and find out the answers!
About Book Prices
Before I move on, it’s a good idea that I explain how book prices work in general. Before books are shipped out to retailers, the publishers will recommend a retail price.
In some countries, this is known as RRP (recommended retail price). Major retailers will normally be provided with a heavy discount for mass purchases, and in some cases, this can be as large as fifty percent.
Authors will already have agreed on a deal with the publisher for their cut of the sales, which is how they make their money. Of course, retailers do not always have to sell products for the RRP.
Sometimes, retailers will massively inflate their prices for a variety of reasons. Perhaps this is down to demand, difficulty sourcing the book or simply to recuperate their own costs of the business.
However, when a book has a price tag creeping into the hundreds of thousands and even the millions, there are further reasons for this. Typically this is down to:
- The age of the book
- The edition of the book (the first edition being the most costly)
- The rarity of the book
- The historical importance of the book
- An unexpected event
So, with these points in mind – I’ll now show you the 10 most expensive books that were ever sold, and you will see these points being big factors in their sale price!
10 Most Expensive Books Sold
Without further ado, here are the answers you are looking for!
The Book Of Mormon
To start this list, we have the most expensive book ever sold. The Book Of Mormon is the center of the Church Of Latter Day Saints religion. The original text was dictated for print by the founder of the religion, Joseph Smith.
The person who printed Joseph Smith’s words was E.B. Grandin, and he then gifted the manuscript to one of the founding members of the Mormon Church. Speaking of the Church, they believe this book to be a factual text with historical accuracy.
This manuscript was then used to produce the very early copies of The Book Of Mormon and in time, this book was then produced in mass and available in multiple languages and bookstores.
But it’s not just any version of this book that was sold for an astronomical sum though. In 2017, the original handwritten manuscript was reclaimed by The Church Of Latter Day Saints and it sold for a staggering $35 million.
As a result, this is the most expensive book ever sold in history.
Leonardo Da Vinci: The Codex Leicester
When it comes to thinking about who some of the most brilliant minds of our time were, you probably cannot have a list without including Leonardo Da Vinci. Widely regarded as one of the greatest geniuses in our history.
While Da Vinci is probably best known for painting The Mona Lisa or The Last Supper, he was also known for being a wise inventor too.
Indeed, many engineers and historians credit Da Vinci with being the person to first come up with the idea of planes (“flying machines”).
It is because of his brilliant mind that many people have sought after his notes for centuries, and luckily – his notes were recovered and changed from codex form to a bound manuscript.
This manuscript is the second most expensive book ever sold. The 72-page notebook was purchased by Microsoft founder Bill Gates for a whopping $30.8 million. He then had the pages translated from mirror-script Italian and created into digital texts.
As a result, this notebook is now available for purchase by the general public, and you can read about Da Vinci’s theories ranging from fossils to astronomy.
The Magna Carta
The Magna Carta is one of the most influential and historically important texts ever written. Originally drafted in 1215 by the Archbishop of Canterbury under the rule of King John, the idea behind the text was simple.
It was a set of rules and general principles for English human rights which limited the ultimate power of the Monarchy at the same time. The drafting of this was likely due to the pressure from Barons.
While John reigned, he raised taxes considerably to reclaim French-taken land, which was extremely unpopular – but especially unpopular among the most wealthy, namely Barons of the land. This resulted in a Barons rebellion.
King John understood that something had to be done, so after a meeting between King John and the leader of the Barons, the Magna Carta was born.
This text was so important to democracy and basic human rights for all that it became a huge factor in the creation of The American Constitution and The Declaration of Independence, along with UK law in the modern era.
There are just 17 copies that predate the 14th Century and one of these copies was purchased at an auction in Sotheby’s, New York for a massive $21.3 by (who we believe to be) David Rubenstein.
David Rubenstein also purchased more very expensive books, which I’ll come onto next!
The Bay Psalm Book
Speaking of David Rubenstein, he also is credited with purchasing the next most expensive book ever sold – The Bay Psalm Book – for an incredible $14.2 million.
This book is considered one of the most important books in the history of Christianity. This is because it is the first book ever created in the New World, dating back to 1640.
It is essentially a collection of Psalms and while the original print was one of 1,700 copies – just 11 remain in existence today (at least that we know of).
The majority of these copies belong to libraries or universities, but we of course know of one that is in private ownership with Mr. David Rubenstein.
The Rothschild Prayer Book
This book is often known as the Rothschild Hours and it was originally written in the early 1500s in Flemish. Its influence cannot be overstated. It is a very important cultural artifact and was created by painstaking processes by monastic scribes.
However, much of this book required the services of extremely famous and skilled artists, which makes this book an absolute masterpiece from the Renaissance era.
Its name is derived from its owner for many centuries. It was secretly owned by the Rothschild family – until the Nazis stole it from the family estate.
In 1999 however, it was purchased by an anonymous bidder (who is now known to be Australian billionaire Kerry Stokes), who acquired it for $13.4 million and gifted it to the National Library of Australia.
You can now go and see this highly important book on display in Canberra, Australia.
The Gospels Of Henry The Lion
Henry The Lion was the name given to The Duke of Saxony – whose reign was between 1142 and 1180. He was known as one of the most powerful German Princes in history, and this can be seen through his achievements.
He personally commissioned this gospel book so it could be displayed in the famous Brunswick Cathedral. Of course, this was centuries before the printing press, so it was created with extreme care and attention.
Much like the previous addition to my list, this book is considered an artistic masterpiece and includes more than 50 Romanesque depictions of the four gospels of Jesus.
It was purchased in 1983 after being auctioned by Sotheby’s, London, and sold for $11.7 million (£8,140,000). This, at the time, was the world record for expensive books sold, until it was surpassed by Bill Gates’ purchase of Da Vinci’s Codex in 1994.
This book now resides in its homeland of Germany, specifically housed in the Wolfenbüttel’s Herzog August Library. You usually can’t go to see it, but there are some opportunities to do so.
Be sure that you plan your trip well in advance if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of it.
John James Audubon: The Birds Of America
This book’s creator has a very interesting history. John James Audubon was originally born in Haiti, then raised in France – but decided to emigrate to North America when he was 18 years old to avoid the draft during the Napoleonic Wars!
While he made a living as a traveling merchant, he was always a keen artist and very interested in ornithology. This work actually began as an ongoing series, recording all of the birds of America.
This continued beautifully until the American Civil War put an end to John’s voyage through the birds of the country. Eventually, the collection of his work was compiled and made into a compendium (hence it received its name).
Copies of this have sold for huge sums of money. First, in 2000 when one copy was sold for $8.8 million by a wealthy Qatari Sheikh – but then this sum was surpassed in 2010. It was sold to a London art dealer for $11.5 million.
You may be wondering why exactly this book is so sought after. Well, there are two main factors. First, there are only 119 known copies still in existence, but there’s much more to it than that.
Many of the birds recorded in Audubon’s work are now extinct, but at the time were abundant. It is one of the limited forms of evidence of these extinct birds (such as the Carolina parakeet).
The Gutenberg Bible
This book is one of the most important books in the history of literature. This is because it can be credited as being the world’s first book to be printed using a movable metal-type print process.
This era from 1455 in Mainz became known as the “Gutenberg Revolution”. While previously, some countries in Asia had begun mastering movable printing processes, this was not the same as the Gutenberg Bible’s printing process.
Of course, before this – publishing was an arduous task. There are 49 of the original batch of 185 copies still in existence today.
In 1987, one of these copies became one of the most expensive books ever sold. It was purchased by a Japanese bookseller for $4.9 million.
Henri Louis Duhamel Du Monceau: Traité Des Arbres Fruitiers
This work is seen among scholars as one of the most influential and historically important books in world history, claiming it to form a base of civilization as we know it today.
It was written by an 18th-century botanist and discusses the physiology of fruit trees with extremely detailed and vivid illustrations, along with an incredibly detailed and scientifically accurate analysis of each one.
However, this is not the reason why this book is so expensive. It’s because the book is so incredibly rare. A mint-condition version of this book was sold in 2006 for $4.5 million.
Of course, while this is nowhere near the most expensive book sold of all time, it is definitely the most expensive book about fruit trees ever sold!
J.K. Rowling: The Tales Of Beedle The Bard
Finally, on my list, I’ve included one of the most famous and popular authors of a generation, and perhaps even of all time. J.K. Rowling – famed for her creation of Harry Potter and the resurgence of reading among young people.
However, while J.K. Rowling is best known for the Harry Potter series, this book is certainly known by fans of her work. The book was written after Rowling concluded the Harry Potter series in 2007 and she only ever published 7 copies of it.
All of them are handwritten and bound by bejeweled leather. Fans of the Harry Potter series might already be familiar with the title of this book.
This is because, in the final installment of the Harry Potter novels, this book appeared in the text by name.
Six out of the seven copies that J.K. Rowling wrote were gifted to her close friends, but one remained and found its way to an auction house. There, it was purchased by a Harry Potter mega-fan for $3.98 million.
J.K. Rowling donated this money to a children’s charity, and later on, Rowling released a reprint for this addition to the series of Harry Potter books – of course, they are available for a much cheaper price tag than nearly four million dollars!
As you can see, some books can and have sold for a very healthy sum, and as we said – this is usually down to their rarity, importance, or demand. If you have one of these copies, be sure to let someone know!
Frequently Asked Questions
I’ll now provide some frequently asked questions about the most expensive books ever sold below.
What Is The Rarest Book In Existence?
It depends on what you consider a book. While Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex is probably the rarest manuscript in the world, the text is now widely available due to Bill Gates translating digital formatting.
However, if you’re talking about rare stories – Homer, from the famous Iliad and Odyssey has come back into the public eye after incredibly rare clay tablets were discovered in Greece, with missing lines from The Odyssey (although we believe these stories were orally told).
What Is The Best Selling Book?
The book that holds the world record for best-selling book is still the Christian Bible. You only need to visit a hotel room or church to see how many are in circulation!
In fact, both the Christian Bible and the Quran have sold over a billion copies.
Who Is The Richest Author?
Technically, the richest author is Elizabeth Badinter who is said to be worth $1.3 billion. However, she made this money through shares and other literary ventures, rather than writing, although she is an author in her own right.
In reality, we should acclaim the richest author title to J.K. Rowling, who is said to be worth $1 billion – largely and most notably due to her creation and continuation of the Harry Potter series, which escalated into successful movie franchises and merchandise.
Can I Auction A Valuable Book?
Yes, you can. If you believe you have a book of particular historical importance, a very rare book, or a book that you think is worth a lot of money – then you should have it appraised.
Once you have done this, you can have the book included in an auction lot. This is likely to be Sotheby’s or a similar auction house. Be sure you go through the correct process though so you are not cheated out of any potential earnings!
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