Most Expensive Books in the World
Humans have been telling stories and sharing thoughts through printed works for thousands of years. Some of those books — if they manage to survive — are worth millions of dollars.
These books are the most expensive tomes, documents and religious works ever sold.
Note: Sale prices are adjusted for inflation in 2021 dollars, and rankings are based on the inflation-adjusted prices. We did not include books that were solely made of art. For example, "The Lilies" sold for $5.5 million in 1985, but the volumes were made of individual watercolors and later divided among investors. However, we did include books that were sold because of their art.
16. A Treatise of Fruit-Trees
Original price: $3.7 million
Year sold: 2006
Inflation-adjusted price: $4.8 million
Why A Treatise of Fruit-Trees Is So Expensive
This spectacularly boring five-book volume all about fruit trees was written in the 18th century and fetched €2.85 million ($3.7 million at the time) at auction in Brussels in 2006.
But the writing isn't what people are after. The actual draw of this sale was the 421 watercolors by Pierre-Antoine Poiteau and Pierre Jean Francois Turpin included in the set.
If you hate yourself, you can read all about the 16 different fruit trees and their varietals in Duhamel du Monceau’s "Traite des Arbres Fruitiers" on the Internet Archive.
15. Tales of Beedle the Bard
Original price: $3.98 million
Year sold: 2007
Inflation-adjusted price: $4.9 million
Why Tales of Beedle the Bard is So Expensive
The only modern author to make this list is J.K. Rowling, whose hand-illustrated and handwritten book "Tales of Beedle the Bard" brought $3.98 million at a 2007 charity auction. Rowling created seven of these books. Six were given out as gifts, and one was used to raise money for Rowling’s children’s charity (now known as Lumos), which works to place orphaned children in loving homes.
These original copies of "Tales of Beedle the Bard" are bound in leather and encrusted with semi-precious gems, but Rowling also turned the story into a book for the regular reader—you can get a paperback edition for $6 on Amazon.
In 2016, another of the six originals sold for $467,000.
14. The First Atlas
Original price: $3.9 million
Year sold: 2006
Inflation-adjusted price: $5 million
Why the First Atlas Is So Expensive
Also known as the "Cosmographia," "Geographia" or simply "The Geography," this book written by the Greco-Roman Claudius Ptolemy is considered the world’s first printed atlas.
While these were "printed" in the ancient world, the three oldest surviving copies date back to the early 15th century. One sold for $3.9 million in 2006.
The original "Geographia" was created circa 150 A.D. You can check out a later version of the atlas — and its 27 hand-drawn maps — at the World Digital Library.
13. The Northumberland Bestiary
Original price: $4.1 million
Year sold: 1990
Inflation-adjusted price: $8.2 million
Why the Northumberland Bestiary Is So Expensive
This bestiary is an awesome collection of animals, monsters and moral tales from the mid-13th century.
It includes pictures and tales of hydras, satyrs, elephants, donkeys, panthers and apes in its beautifully illustrated pages, which you can read here.
The book sold for $4.1 million in 1990 but is currently owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum.
11. Shakespeare’s First Folio
Original price: $9.98 million
Year sold: 2020
Inflation-adjusted price: $10 million
Why Shakespeare's First Folio Is So Expensive
William Shakespeare’s First Folio — a collection of plays published in 1623 — is one of the most coveted books in the English language, and it has a price to match. Although those prices can vary.
One copy sold at auction in New York for a record-setting price of $6.166 million in 2001, and five years later, another copy fetched $5.153 million.
In 2016, a set of the first four editions of Shakespeare’s folios fetched $3.68 million at auction. That included a first edition of the First Folio that had previously not been known to exist.
But in 2020, new records were set. For a complete copy of the 1623 book, an anonymous buyer paid $9.98 million for the tome (pictured) at auction.
About 56 complete First Folios are known to exist.
12. Bomberg Babylonian Talmud
Original price: $9.3 million
Year sold: 2015
Inflation-adjusted price: $10.26 million
Why the Bomberg Babylonian Talmud Is So Expensive
The Bomberg Babylonian Talmud is one of only 14 complete multi-volume sets from the early 16th century still in existence.
The buyer attempted to remain anonymous, but reports say the book was purchased in 2015 by billionaire Leon Black, an investor, art collector and founder of Apollo Global Management.
The book is the most expensive piece of Judaica to ever sell at auction. Previously, it had been sitting at Westminster Abbey for some 400 years, where apparently no one knew just how valuable it was.
10. The Canterbury Tales
Original price: $7.5 million
Year sold: 1998
Inflation-adjusted price: $12 million
Why The Canterbury Tales Is So Expensive
An extremely rare 1477 first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s "Canterbury Tales" sold for $7.5 million in 1998 to the highest bidder, the late British billionaire and philanthropist John Paul Getty Jr.
There are only a dozen known copies of the first edition in existence.
9. The Gutenberg Bible
Original price: $5.4 million
Year sold: 1987
Inflation-adjusted price: $12.43 million
Why the Gutenberg Bible Is So Expensive
The Gutenberg Bible was the first complete book to be printed from movable type in 1455 and, as such, was one of the books that changed the world. Understandably this book has a hefty price tag.
Since there was no Gutenberg Bible in Japan in 1987, the Maruzen Company, a Japanese bookseller, purchased an incomplete copy for $5.4 million.
There are 49 Gutenberg Bibles known to exist, but only 21 are complete. You can flip through one of them at the University of Texas at Austin.
8. Birds of America
Original price: $11.5 million
Year sold: 2010
Inflation-adjusted price: $13.8 million
Why Birds of America Is So Expensive
Copies of John James Audubon’s beautifully illustrated, awe-inspiring four-volume set, "Birds of America" have fetched millions of dollars several times. In 2000, a Qatari prince and art collector purchased one for $8.8 million ($13.4 million today). Another copy sold for $5 million in 2005 ($6.7 million today), and in 2010, the highest bid went for $11.5 million ($13.8 million today).
In 2012, another full edition "Birds of America" sold for $7.9 million ($9 million today), and in 2018, another copy sold for $9.6 million ($10 million today).
Adjusted for inflation, these copies of Birds of America have sold for over $51 million.
7. The Rothschild Prayerbook
Original price: $13.6 million
Year sold: 2014
Inflation-adjusted price: $15.3 million
Why the Rothschild Prayerbook Is So Expensive
The Rothschild Prayerbook is a 16th-century Flemish illuminated manuscript filled with incredible paintings by master Renaissance miniaturists and lined with gold. The book takes its name from the wealthy Rothschild family, who acquired the book sometime after 1868. It’s unknown where it had been in the prior 350 years.
In 1938, the book was stolen by the Nazis. Four years later, Hitler gave it to the National Library in Vienna. Incredibly, the library refused to return it to the Rothschilds. It wasn’t until 1999 that the book would be returned to its rightful owners.
The Rothschild Prayerbook first sold to an anonymous bidder in 1999 for $13.38 million ($21.5 million adjusted for inflation today). It sold again in 2014 to billionaire Australian businessman Kerry Stokes for $13.6 million ($15.3 million adjusted for inflation). Adjusted for inflation, the value of the book has decreased by $6 million between sales.
6. Bay Psalm Book
Original price: $14.2 million
Year sold: 2013
Inflation-adjusted price: $15.94 million
Why Bay Psalm Book Is So Expensive
Printed in 1650, 20 years after settlers landed at Plymouth Rock, the Bay Psalm Book was the first book printed in British North America.
In 1947, a copy of the Bay Psalm Book — there are 11 copies known to exist — broke world records when a copy of it sold at auction for $151,000 (about $1.8 million today).
In 2013, it sold again at auction, this time for much more. Billionaire American businessman David Rubenstein purchased it for $14 million. He has since loaned it out to various libraries.
5. St. Cuthbert Gospel
Original price: $14 million
Year old: 2012
Inflation-adjusted price: $15.95 million
Why St. Cuthbert Gospel Is So Expensive
The earliest intact European book was purchased by the British Library in London in 2012 for $14 million after a successful fundraising effort. The gospel was buried with its owner and writer, St. Cuthbert, who died in 687. The book is in remarkably good condition and still retains its binding and beautiful red cover, despite being 1,300 years old.
The gospel was unearthed in 1104 when Cuthbert’s remains were being moved from a grave to a shrine—and for a while, it was used as a protective talisman from time to time. By the early 17th century, the book was owned privately until it was donated to a Jesuit community in Belgium, where it remained for 250 years.
You can check out the book at the British Library’s online digitized manuscripts database.
4. The Magna Carta
Original price: $21.3 million
Year sold: 2007
Inflation-adjusted price: $26.9 million
Why the Magna Carta Is So Expensive
A copy of the Magna Carta was on the auction block, and not in a museum, in 2007. The billionaire co-founder of the Carlyle Group, David Rubenstein, alarmed that the historic (but not quite priceless) manuscript would end up with an owner overseas, decided to plunk down a $19 million bid for the copy.
Including fees and commissions, the final cost was $21.3 million. Rubenstein, who also uses his $2.8 billion net worth for philanthropic efforts, put the Magna Carta back into the National Archives.
It’s unknown precisely how many copies of the Magna Carta were made, but it’s estimated there were maybe 250 copies. In 2015, an original copy of the Magna Carta was found in an old scrapbook in a British coastal town (it’s speculated to be worth about $15 million, but it hasn't been put up for sale yet).
3. The Gospels of Henry the Lion
Original price: $11.7 million
Year sold: 1983
Inflation-adjusted price: $30.73 million
Why the Gospels of Henry the Lion Are So Expensive
The Gospels of Henry the Lion is an illuminated Romanesque book that was published sometime during the late 12th century and sold for $11.7 million in 1983. It was the most expensive book in the world for quite some time.
King Henry the Lion was a crucial figure in founding Germany, and the bidders — which included the German federal government and private donors — pooled their money together to bring this book home.
It is only displayed six weeks per year in the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel.
2. The Book of Mormon (Printer’s Manuscript)
Original price: $35 million
Year sold: 2017
Inflation-adjusted price: $37.35 million
Why the Book of Mormon Is So Expensive
The Mormons have almost enough money to rival Bill Gates. The Church of Latter-Day Saints is worth at least $40 billion, and they also aren’t afraid to spend big money on books.
According to the LDS Church, this 1830 handwritten manuscript is a copy of the one that Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, dictated to his scribes. It is also the manuscript used to typeset the original Book of Mormon.
In 2017, the book was sold to the LDS Church by the Community of Christ, which had owned it for 114 years.
1. The Codex of Leicester
Original price: $30.8 million
Year sold: 1994
Inflation-adjusted price: $54.4 million
Why the Codex of Leicester Is The Most Expensive Book in the World
Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex of Leicester, also known as the Codex Hammer, is the most expensive book ever sold. The 72-page linen manuscript includes Leonardo’s thoughts, theories and observations of the world, like the movement of water, fossils and the luminosity of the moon.
In 1980, industrialist Armand Hammer purchased the codex for $5.8 million (about $18.4 million today). It then sold for $30.8 million in 1994 to Bill Gates, who wasn’t yet the richest person in the world — although he was certainly wealthy. After buying the Codex, Gates had it digitally scanned, then released some images as screen savers and wallpapers for Windows 98 Plus.
That’s quite a journey for a book written in 1510.