For thousands of years, humans have told stories and shared thoughts via written/printed works. Books have long been revered as a repository of wisdom and information. They can be employed to impart knowledge, share tales, or give guidance.
Books had to be written and duplicated by hand before Gutenberg’s development of the printing machine in 1439, making them expensive and rare. Digital books are now readily available and fairly priced since the process has been automated and made incredibly simple.
Along with their prices, the most costly books ever sold have been mentioned. Most of the books on this list are fairly challenging to find, but some of them are also highly important historical records, which is why they are so valuable. The top 12 most expensive books ever sold worldwide are listed in this article.
However, the cost of books has increased over time. This is especially true for antique and rare books, some of which, if they survive, are valued at millions of dollars. So the question is what books are worth the most money?
Keep reading if you’re interested in finding out the top 12 most expensive books in the world. This article delves into the most expensive books in the world.
If you find yourself with a large sum of money but don’t know what to do with it, think about buying one of these most expensive books in the world to display on your shelves. You are welcome to browse your library at a later time.
Who knows? You might hold something significant that will suddenly make you rich. This page is a list of the most expensive books ever sold along with their costs.
1. Codex Leicester:
Original price: $30.8 million
Year sold: 1994
Inflation-adjusted price: $58.4 million
The most costly book ever sold is the “Codex Leicester,” commonly called the “Codex Hammer,” by Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo’s theories, thoughts, and observations about the world—including the motion of water, the existence of fossils, and the moon’s luminosity are included in the 72-page linen manuscript.
The Second Most
This is the second mostly book ever sold in the world is the Codex Leicester. It was released in 1510 and includes some of Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific papers. The 72-page codex belonged to Thomas Coke, the Earl of Leicester, who bought it in 1719. Bill Gates paid a staggering $30.8 million for it in 1994, making it the most expensive book ever sold.
The Codex includes findings on astronomy, the characteristics of rocks, water, and fossils, as well as research on light. Essentially, Leonardo da Vinci’s science diary was the Codex Leicester.
Industrialist Armand Hammer paid $5.8 million (about $18.4 million today) for the codex in 1980. Bill Gates, who wasn’t yet the richest man in the world but was undoubtedly affluent, purchased it in 1994 for $30.8 million. Gates acquired the Codex, had it digitally scanned, and later made some of the images available as wallpapers and screen savers for Windows 98 Plus. For a book written in 1510, that’s quite the tale.
2. The Book of Mormon (Printer’s Manuscript)
Original price: $35 million
Year sold: 2017
Inflation-adjusted price: $40.1 million
The Mormons are nearly as wealthy as Bill Gates. The Church of Latter-Day Saints is at least $40 billion in wealth, and they are also not averse to lavishly funding their library.
The LDS Church claims that this 1830 handwritten document is a replica of the one that Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith dictated to his scribes. Additionally, the original Book of Mormon was typeset using this manuscript.
The book was sold by the Community of Christ, which had held it for 114 years, to the LDS Church in 2017.
3. Sherborne Missal
Original price: $21.21 million
Year sold: 2001
Inflation-adjusted price: $33.7 million
The Sherborne Missal is the biggest English service book from the Middle Ages, with 347 illuminated pages. It was produced in the fifteenth century. It was made for the Benedictine abbey of St. Mary’s in Sherborne, Dorset, and was probably commissioned by Robert Bruning, the abbot of Sherborne, who appeared more than a hundred times in it. The British Library acquired it from a private collector in 2001.
4. The Gospels of Henry the Lion
Original price: $11.7 million
Year sold: 1983
Inflation-adjusted price: $33 million
The Gospels of Henry the Lion, an illustrated Romanesque book that dates to the late 12th century was sold for $11.7 million in 1983. For a while, it held the record for the most pricey book ever.
King Henry the Lion was a pivotal figure in the founding of Germany, and the bidders, which included the German federal government and individual donors, pooled their funds to bring this book home. It is exclusively on exhibit for six weeks a year in Wolfenbüttel’s Herzog August Library.
5. The Magna Carta
Original price: $21.3 million
Year sold: 2007
Inflation-adjusted price: $28.9 million
In 2007, a copy of the Magna Carta was up for auction instead of being in a museum. David Rubenstein, the billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group, decided to make a $19 million offer for the copy out of concern that the historic (but not nearly priceless) manuscript may end up with an owner abroad.
The total expense:
including fees and commissions, was $21.3 million. The Magna Carta was returned to the National Archives by Rubenstein, who also donates some of his $2.8 billion fortunes to charitable causes.
The exact number of Magna Carta copies produced is unknown, however, it’s thought there may have been 250. An authentic copy of the Magna Carta was discovered in a vintage scrapbook in a seaside British hamlet in 2015. It is estimated to be worth $15 million, although it hasn’t yet been put up for sale.
6. St. Cuthbert’s Gospel:
Original price: $14 million
Year sold: 2012
Inflation-adjusted price: $17.1 million
The British Library in London paid $14 million for the earliest intact European book in 2012 following a successful fundraising campaign. The gospel was interred together with its author and owner, St. Cuthbert, who passed away in 687.
During the transfer of Cuthbert’s remains from the grave to a shrine in 1104, the gospel was unearthed, and for a while, it was sometimes used as a protective talisman.
By the early 17th century the book was privately owned until it was donated to a Jesuit settlement in Belgium, where it remained for 250 years. Although the book is 1,300 years old, it is in astonishingly good shape and still has its binding and lovely crimson cover.
7. The Bay Psalm Book:
Original price: $14.2 million
Year sold: 2013
Inflation-adjusted price: $17.1 million
The Bay Psalm Book was printed in 1650, 20 years after settlers arrived at Plymouth Rock, making it the earliest book ever produced in British North America. When a copy of the Bay Psalm Book, of which there are 11 known copies, was auctioned off in 1947 for $151,000 (about $1.8 million today), it set global records.
The Bay Psalm Book Cost
Costs $14.2 million when it was first purchased, is the fifth most expensive book ever. The first book to be printed in British North America was this one.
Twenty years after the first pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, the book was published in 1640. Only eleven copies of the original edition are still in existence, and one of them sold in November 2013 for $14.5 million.
It was auctioned again in 2013 and this time fetched substantially more money. It was purchased for $14 million by American business magnate and billionaire David Rubenstein. Since then, he has loaned it to several libraries.
8. The Rothschild Prayerbook:
Original price: $13.6 million
Year sold: 2014
Inflation-adjusted price: $16.1 million
The Rothschild Prayerbook, a 16th-century Flemish illuminated manuscript lined with gold features magnificent paintings by talented Renaissance miniaturists.
The book’s name comes from the wealthy Rothschild family, who acquired it sometime before 1868. It was however unclear where the book had been in the previous 350 years.
The Nazis stole the book from its owner in 1938. Four years later, Hitler handed it to the National Library in Vienna. Interestingly, the library declined to return it to the Rothschilds. It wasn’t until 1999 that the book was returned to its rightful owners.
In 1999, an anonymous bidder purchased the Rothschild Prayerbook for $13.38 million ($21.5 million today, adjusted for inflation). It was sold again in 2014 for $13.6 million ($15.3 million adjusted for inflation) to billionaire Australian businessman Kerry Stokes. Between sales, the book’s value has dropped by $6 million when adjusted for inflation.
9. Birds of America:
Original price: $11.5 million
Year sold: 2010
Inflation-adjusted price: $14.8 million
“Birds of America,” a four-volume set by John James Audubon with exquisite illustrations, has sold for millions of dollars on several occasions. A royal from Qatar who was also an art collector bought one in 2000 for $8.8 million ($13.4 million today). In 2005, a copy went for $5 million ($6.7 million today), and in 2010, the top bid was $11.5 million ($13.8 million today).
A complete edition of “Birds of America” sold for $7.9 million in 2012 (equivalent to $9 million today), while another copy sold for $9.6 million (equivalent to $10 million today) in 2018. These Birds of America copies have sold for more than $51 million when adjusted for inflation.
10. The Gutenberg Bible:
Original price: $5.4 million
Year sold: 1987
Inflation-adjusted price: $13.3 million
One of the publications that altered the world was the Gutenberg Bible, which was printed using movable type for the first time in 1455. So, it makes sense that this book is expensive. The Maruzen Company, a Japanese bookseller, paid $5.4 million for an incomplete copy of the Gutenberg Bible in 1987 since there was none found in Japan.
There are 49 copies of the Gutenberg Bible known to exist, although only 21 of them are complete. One of them is available for viewing at the University of Texas at Austin.
11. The Canterbury Tales:
Original price: $7.5 million
Year sold: 1998
Inflation-adjusted price: $12.9 million
The top bidder, the late British billionaire and philanthropist John Paul Getty Jr. paid $7.5 million in 1998 for the very rare 1477 first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. Only twelve copies of the first edition are known to exist.
In 1998, British billionaire and philanthropist John Paul Getty Jr. bought an extremely rare 1477 first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales for $7.5 million, making it one of the most expensive books ever sold in the world.
12. Histoire de ma vie:
Original price: $9.06 million
Year sold: 2010
Inflation-adjusted price: $11.7 million
The autobiographical manuscript of Giacomo Casanova was bought by France’s national library in 2010. Initially, it was believed to have been destroyed during World War II. However, days before a 1945 bombing by Allied forces, someone had hidden the 3,700-page manuscript in a safe in a German bank’s basement.
While employed as a librarian in 1789, Casanova started writing the book, and he continued until his passing in 1798. The acquisition of this book for France was made possible by an anonymous buyer.
The greatest significant development in human evolution is arguably the use of books, which dates back hundreds of years. Books evolved into what we know today from papyrus scrolls used in Ancient Egypt and manuscripts found in monasteries throughout the Middle Ages.
In recent times more books are now made available in digital format. Even though the most expensive books in the world today are hundreds of years old, their value appears to increase over time, much like e quality wine.