Chapter and Verse. The world’s most expensive books.

Posted on 23 February 2021

You may have noticed on our link to Antiques we use an image of antique books. Rare and limited edition books are incredibly valuable and highly collectable.

We take a look at some of the most expensive books in the world.

There is a lengthy book all about fruit trees that’s worth over $3.7 million. 

Or it was in 2006 when it last came up for sale.

Why? Well not only was it wrote in the 18th Century – 1757 – but it included 421 highly desirable watercolour pictures by Pierre-Antoine Poiteau and Pierre Jean Francois Turpin.


It’s even available for you to read online here,  if you are particularly into your 18th century fruit trees. 

Most expensive books are valuable for their artwork, some, not included in this list, are simply watercolour plates bound into books. Destined to be taken apart and framed. Sadly.

Not everything is as old as this –

A collection of six small decorated handwritten books – all the same title were given as gifts. One – just one – recently sold at auction for $476,000
These are the original handwritten, leather bound, jewel encrusted copies of ‘Tales of beetle the Bard’ by JK Rowling. 

If you don’t have quite the budget the paperback printed version is available on Amazon. 

Going back a fair few years earlier, William Shakespeare’s first folio – a collection of his plays published in 1623 – is one of the most coveted books in the English language.  There are about 56 copies of the complete folio and they have the prices to match the rarity. One copy sold for $5.15 million causing a stir but in 2020 an anonymous buyer paid $9.9 million. 

A rare first edition, from 1477, of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ sold for $7.5 million

There are only a dozen surviving first edition copies in existence, the decorated pages make it an absolute treasure to view. The British library have a beautiful set of images of the pages for you to see online. 

Not surprisingly many of the most expensive books are religious; Bibles and psalm books.  Ancient and highly decorated there are some reaching $21 million dollars at auction.
One of the earliest intact European books ever was purchased by the British library in 2012 for $14million. St Cuthbert’s Gospel was actually buried with its owner and writer in the year 687. It was unearth during 1104 when Cuthbert’s remains were moved from his grave to a shrine.  It’s remarkably bright, and in excellent condition despite being over 1,300 years old. And yes, its still around today.

Moving from religion to science; the Codex of Leicester, Leonardo Da Vinci’s manuscript, is one of the most expensive books ever sold.  The linen pages hold Da Vinci’s thoughts and observations of the world in 1510, such as fossils, flight, the light of the moon. 

It was sold to Bill Gates for $30.8 million in 1994. He had it digitally scanned and some images are available for screen savers and wallpapers on Windows. 

Not every pricey book is a bible or manuscript or an unobtainable singular version of course.  Theres plenty of incredible books for sale online right now.
A quick search finds;

James Joyces‘ first edition Ulysses is £100,00

Hound of the Baskervilles by Conan Doyle is £80,000

First edition of On Her majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming 1963 is £5,000

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (McClurg, 1914) £20,000 – £25,000

Poems by WH Auden (Privately Printed, 1928) £30,000

Auction Houses hold frequent books sales.  Fabulous antique books stores, like those of the book famous town of Hay-on Wye, sell breathtaking beautiful sets and leather bound volumes of absolutely every subject and story you can think of. 

Definitely a worthwhile and very beautiful investment.