Top 10 Most Expensive Books in History

The World’s Most Expensive Books

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and perhaps that explains why the world’s most famous paintings sell for hundreds of millions of dollars more than the most expensive books. But even so, nothing can capture the insight into the author’s mind like carefully woven words penned in the master’s own hand, and when that master is Leonardo da Vinci – thirty million dollars is a bargain.

Below is a current list of the ten most expensive books in the world. The dollar amount is the rounded-value auction or sale price as of their most recent sale date (in parentheses) and is not adjusted for inflation. This list is in a constant state of flux with auctions being held every year around the world, so if this is a topic that interests you, check out collectible book blogs for updates.

1. The Codex Leicester – Leonardo da Vinci. $30.8M (1994)


The Codex is a collection of largely scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci that provide a rare insight into his mind as an artist, scientist and social thinker. It is exceptionally well-illustrated, spanning the abyss between scientific methodology and creative artistry.

2. The Gospels of Henry the Lion – $12.4M (1983)


The Gospel book was commissioned by the Henry the lion, Duke of Saxony for the altar of the Virgin Mary in the Brunswick Cathedral. It is 266 pages long including fifty full-page full-color illustrations.

3. The Birds of America – $8.8M (2000)


The Birds of America is a life-sized illustrated encyclopedia describing a wide variety of birds native to the United States as observed by John James Audubon himself.

4. The Canterbury Tales – $7M (1998)



Written toward the end of the fourteenth century by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories narrated by a group of pilgrims traveling together from Southwark to Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer used the tales as a medium to scorn and criticize modern English society at the time, and specifically the Church.

5. The Gutenberg Bible – $5.4M (1987)


Also known as the Mazarin Bible, it marks the beginning of the Gutenberg Revolution and the age mechanically printed mass-produced books. Printed by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1450s, it is highly acclaimed for both its aesthetic and artistic qualities.

6. Traité des Arbres Fruitiers – $4.5M (2006)


Written by Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau around 1750, the title literally translates into Treatise on Fruit Trees. It’s a five-volume set illustrating sixteen different species of fruit trees, with descriptions and definitions throughout.


7. The Northumberland Bestiary – $5.4M (1987)


Named after a former owner, The Bestiary is a medieval encyclopedia of animals, both real and imagined, that are also used as characters to teach moral lessons through pictures and proverbs. There is a decidedly religious bent to the lessons, where male lions are reflections of God and dragons embody the evil of Satan.

8. First Folio: Comedies, Histories and Tragedies – $5.5M (2006)



First published several years after his death, Comedies, Histories and Tragedies includes more than a dozen of William Shakespeare’s plays, including some of his best-known classics and more than a few that have never been made public.

9. Cosmography – $4.2M (2006)


A copy of the first atlas ever printed, Cosmography is based on the work of Greek mathematician and geographer Ptolemy.

10. Mozart’s 9 Symphonies Manuscript –  $4.1M (1990)


While technically not a book in the tradition of linear storytelling, the manuscript is nonetheless a collection of nine symphonies from one of the greatest masters who ever lived and autographed by his own hand.

Derwood Talbot is a writer for the popular book review site. Browse the site to find information on the latest book gadgets and information on your favorite authors.

Posted by on July 8, 2010. Filed under Entertainment, History, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses to Top 10 Most Expensive Books in History

  1. What about the Codex Argentum? Arguably it ought to be on this list… if not on space 1!

  2. Do you have any idea how annoying the box for Twitter, Facebook etc is that relentlessly follows visitors down the side of the page is? Every time I see one I immediately leave the page.

    Who the hell thought this was a good idea?