When most people think of books, they think about mass market paperbacks and the hardbacks at the library. There was a time, however, when books represented months and perhaps years of effort on the part of a single person, laboring endlessly with ink and quill. The Johnny Depp move, The Ninth Gate, introduced us to a world of valuable and hopelessly rare books, but which ones are still with us today? Check out these incredibly expensive, incredibly rare volumes and the price tag that goes with them.
Vita Christi Manuscript
The Vita Christi manuscript contains more than 100 precise and hand-drawn illustrations that feature the life of Christ. About half of the pictures come from the twelfth century, while the second half seem to have been added more than three hundred years later, during the fifteenth century. This priceless historical artifact was sold for 3.5 million dollars to a private bidder at auction. In many cases, the oldest books from the European tradition were religious in nature.
Traité des Arbres Fruitiers
Books in the past were meant to convey information, just as they do now, and that is exactly what the French manuscript, the Traité des Arbres Fruitiers does. This rare volume, which sold for 4.5 million dollars, is actually five books in one. It was written in 1750, and it is essentially a guidebook. The name of the volume translates to “Treatise on Fruit Trees” and there are 16 different species of trees that are illustrated in the book, with plenty of information on how the trees were thought to function.
First Folio: Comedies, Histories and Tragedies
Nothing makes a bibliophile drool like Shakespeare, and given that the First Folio: Comedies, Histories and Tragedies sold for 5.2 million dollars at auction, you can imagine how valuable this book was. This playbook set records in 2006 when it went to auction, and it contains many of Shakespeare’s most favorite plays, as well as some stories which were never made public during Shakespeare’s life. This particular volume entered a private collection, making it one of the very few from the 750 print run to do so.
Gospels of Henry the Lion
The Gospels of Henry the Lion is a volume that was written during the twelfth century. It contain the four gospels and fifty illustrations. This volume stretches an impressive 266 pages long, and it talks about the ascent to power of King Henry. This volume seems to have been commissioned by the king and carried out by the monks of Helmarshausen, a Benedictine monastery. Though this volume sold for 12 million dollars in 1983, it is suggested to cost as much as 25.5 million dollars today.
Though the books listed above are worth an eye-boggling amount of money, the most expensive book ever sold was the Codex Leicester. It was purchased by Bill Gates for the astounding price of 30.8 million dollars, which today would give it the price of 44 million dollars. The book is also known as the Da Vinci manuscript, and it features drawings, sketches and observations made by the original Renaissance man as he worked on his art and his inventions. Parts of the book were very carefully scanned and made part of the Window’s screen saver.
If you are someone who loves books and can’t get enough of their history, you’ll find that there are some amazing things to learn. Price is just one way to judge a book, so think about the ancient books out there and the secrets that they might hold.
This piece was composed by Bartlett Kingsley, a freelance writer and blogger who focuses on antiques, old and rare books, cultural artifacts, history and other related areas; to learn more about book printing visit America’s Press, a leader among Book Printers.
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