January 12, 2011
The $10 million copy of Birds of America
The world’s most expensive book has been sold in London, and a new world record has been set for the priciest printed book ever sold at auction.
John James Audubon’s Bird’s of America sold for an impressive £7,321,250 ($11,542,683) at Sotheby’s in London recently. It is considered to be one of the most monumental printed books ever produced, containing 435 hand coloured prints of around 497 bird species made from engraved copper plates. Standing at over 3 foot tall, the book is practically life size.
Four collectors battled it out both over the phone and in the auction room to become the proud owner of Bird’s of America. This was one of only 100 copies that exist in the world, and the bidding war drove prices way above the estimate of $6.3 million to $9.5 million. A different copy of the book had sold previously for a staggering $8.8 million in 2000. It was finally purchased by London dealer Michael Tollemache, who was present in the auction room and described the work as “priceless”. In fact, the cost of printing the book was $115,640 back in the late 1800s, which would be well over $2,000,000 today.
The book was sold as part of the sale of Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings from the collection of Frederick, 2nd Lord Hesketh. This sale was a celebration of significant British history, with one of the most important books in English Literature; a first folio of Shakespeare’s plays – dating back to 1623. It was sold for £1,497,250 to Stephan Loewentheil. It also featured 40 letters relating to the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, including 4 letters signed by Queen Elizabeth I – sold for £349,250 ($550,628). The entire collection brought in a total of £14,971,950 ($23,604,776), well over the already high estimate of $18.6 million. It managed to set a record as the highest price ever achieved for single-session sale of Books and Manuscripts ever held in London.