Got $10 million? The world’s most expensive book could be yours
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Book collectors with fat wallets take note: A first edition of the rare John James Audubon book ‘The Birds of America’ will be auctioned by Christie’s in New York on Jan. 20. When another copy of ‘The Birds of America’ sold for $11.5 million in 2010, it became the world’s most expensive book.
‘The Birds of America’ was published in the early 1800s as a serial, with subscribers getting a handful of plates at a time. It was printed on oversized pages, more than 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide; the original black-and-white engravings were hand-colored. It took a decade to complete the project. There are thought to be only about 120 copies of the book in full, which includes 435 color illustrations.
‘The format was chosen not out of any grandiosity but because it was Audubon’s remarkable desire –- and ability -- to produce life-sized engravings of each bird,’ rare book dealer Rick Gekoski told the Guardian. ‘Thus the finches and cardinals have plenty of space in which to flit about, while the flamingo and trumpeter swan tilt their necks graciously inward and arrange themselves with some care. The effect of this is just terrific.’
The edition of the book that Christie’s will auction later this month was purchased as a fully bound set sometime after 1838, the year it was finally completed. Christie’s writes that it was bought by (deep breath): William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland PC, FRS, FSA (24 June 1768 - 27 March 1854), styled Marquess of Titchfield until 1809... [or] this set may also have been purchased later by the 5th or 6th Dukes of Portland, the son of the 4th Duke and his cousin, respectively.
Since 1973, 24 copies of the book have come up for sale. 14 of those were sold off page by page, because the individual plates are so valuable. 107 copies remain in institutions and 13 are in private hands. If you’ve got about $10 million, those hands could now be yours.
And if you haven’t got quite that much scratch, a low-resolution, screen-size version of Audubon’s ‘The Birds of America’ can be seen at the Audubon website.
-- Carolyn Kellogg