Some Of The Most Valuable Books Ever Sold

History and rarity drive up the value of these written works to millions.

Over the last week of September, Christie’s auctioned off Charlie Watts’ book collection which broke individual records for the authors. 

The Rolling Stones’ drummer once owned a copy of The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie which sold for $63,968. Meanwhile, his copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles fetched a hefty $226,555.

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According to Bruce McKinney, founder of the Rare Book Hub, the market for rare books is having its moment, thanks to the new generation of collectors. McKinney estimated that its value jumped to $1.15 billion in 2021, after sales from auction houses rose, as opposed to those by private dealers.

Of history and rarity

Currently, the most expensive book ever sold is Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester. Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates purchased the book for $30.8 million in 1994, which is now equivalent to $64.68 million. The 16th century manuscript contains da Vinci’s sketches, diagrams, and early theories.

Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester
Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester | Image via Wikimedia Commons

In May this year, a Hebrew Bible that could date back to the 9th century sold at Sotheby’s for $38.1 million. Known as the Codex Sassoon, the auction house called it the most valuable book ever sold (not adjusted for inflation).

Many religious texts are valued for the history they represent and their rarity. In 2017, the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints paid $35 million for a copy of the Book of Mormon. It was the printer’s own manuscript, believed to have been originally engraved on golden plates.

Modern treasures

Aside from historical works, more modern books have also become more valuable. For example, in 2021, a first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone sold for $471,000 at Heritage Auctions. It also set the world record for the most expensive 20th century work of fiction ever sold.

Only 500 copies of this first edition Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone were published
Only 500 copies of the first edition Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were published | Image via Heritage Auctions’ official website

“Buyers like to collect the types of books that they grew up with,” said Peter Harrington, owner of the eponymous London rare book dealer. “A generation ago, Boomers were after titles like To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye.”

Today, with this younger generation of collectors, works by childhood authors like Rowling, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien are selling exceptionally well. It’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

Banner image by Ylanite Koppens via Pexels.

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