• Christie's: The first four Folios of William Shakespeare’s collected works will be auctioned on 25 May.
    Christie's: The first four Folios of William Shakespeare’s collected works will be auctioned on 25 May.
  • <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 1. Silver coin (1455), celebrating expulsion of English people in 1451.<br>Est: € 12,000-20,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 7. Heures à l’usage de Coutances. Paris, last quarter of 15th century. Est: € 30,000-40,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 9.<br>TERENCE. Lyon, Jean Trechsel, 1493. Est: € 20,000-30,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 8. Biblia latina. Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 1478. Est: € 20,000-30,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 11. [Francesco Colonna]. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Venise, Alde Manuce, December 1499. Est: € 150,000-200,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 14. Marco<br>Vigerio della Rovere. Decachordum christianum. Fano, Girolamo Socino, 1507. Est: € 15,000-20,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 18. CONSTANTIN VII. De notevoli et utilissimi ammæstramenti dell’agricoltura. Venise, Gabriele Giolito de Ferrari, 1542. Est: € 40,000-50,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 19. TITE-LIVE. Latinæ historiæ principis. Lyon, Sébastien Gryphe, 1548.<br>Est: € 15,000-20,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 38. OTTOMAN CORAN. 17th century by Muhammad Hafiz (Imam Mehmed Effendi).<br>Est: € 20,000-30,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 45. Blaise PASCAL. Pensées. Paris, Guillaume Desprez, 1670. Est: € 100,000-120,000.
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 52. George EDWARDS. A Natural History of uncommon birds. London, the author, 1743-1751. Est: € 20,000-30,000
    <b>ALDE May 24:</b> Lot 59. Jean de LA FONTAINE. Fables choisies. Paris, Desaint & Saillant, Durand, 1755-1759. Est: € 40,000-50,000.
  • Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 18. Blaeu, <i>Nova et Accuratissima Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula</i>, 1660.<br>Est. $14000-$17000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 20. Pitt, <i>Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula</i>, 1680. Est. $9500-$11000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 65. Ortelius, <i>Americae sive Novi Orbis, Nova Descriptio</i>, 1571. <br>Est. $6000-$7000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 84. Bailleul, <i>L'Amerique Divisee en Ses Principales Parties</i>, 1752.<br>Est. $19000-$22000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 99. Sayer & Bennett, <i>The American Military Pocket Atlas</i>, 1776. <br>Est. $10000-$12000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 269. Reid, <i>Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia</i>, 1796. <br>Est. $2750-$3500
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 291. Carleton, <i>Map of Massachusetts Proper</i>, 1801. Est. $12000-$14000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 378. Keulen, <i>Pas Kaart vande Noord Oost Kust van Cuba en d'Oost Kust van Florida</i>, 1695. Est. $3250-$4000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 651. Ptolemy/Fries, <i>Tabula Superioris Indiae & Tartariae Maioris</i>, 1541.<br>Est. $3000-$4000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 688. Wit, <i>Nova Africa Descriptio</i>, 1660.<br>Est. $2750-$3500
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 706. Ortelius, <i>Maris Pacifici</i>, 1589.<br>Est. $8000-$9000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 727. Audubon, <i>Least Stormy-Petrel</i>, 1836. Est. $1400-$1700
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 741. Bordone, <i>Isolario</i>, 1547.<br>Est. $16000-$19000
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 747. Teesdale, <i>A New General Atlas of the World</i>, 1835. Est. $2000-$2750
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 752. Colton, <i>Colton's Atlas of the World Volume I and II</i>, 1856.<br>Est. $2500-$3250
    Old World Auctions (May 4): Lot 760. Prevost, <i>Histoire Generale des Voyages ... Tome Quatorzieme</i>, 1757. <br>Est. $2400-$3000
  • <b>Ketterer Kunst Hamburg, Rare Books Auction on May 23/24.</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> Mary Stuart. Ms. Parliament document (contemp. copy). 1567. <br>Est: € 2.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> Latin and French Book of Hours. About 1480. Est: € 65.000.
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> Book of Hours by Germain Hardouyn. 1533. Est: € 18.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> G. P. Gallucci, Theatrum mundi. 1588. Est: € 5.000
    <b>Ketterer Kunst Hamburg, Rare Books Auction on May 23/24.</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> J. Hill, The vegetable system. 1761-75. Est: € 60.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>J. Honter, Rudimentorum cosmographicorum libri III. 1549.<br>Est: € 3.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> Two terrestrial and celestial globes by J. G. Doppelmayr. 1789 or later. Est: € 40.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>G. de Maupassant, Contes choisies. 1891-92. Est: € 6.000
    <b>Ketterer Kunst Hamburg, Rare Books Auction on May 23/24.</b>
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>K. Schwitters, HahnePeter. 1924.<br>Est: € 6.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>I. G. Chernikhov, Arkhitekturnye fantazii. 1933. Est: € 3.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>E. Baj, La Cravate. 1972. Est: € 3.000
    <b>Ketterer Rare Books, May Auction:</b> <br>H. Bellmer & G. Bataille, Histoire de l'oeil. 1944. Est: € 3.000

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2014 Issue

Copy of Second Highest Priced Book at Auction Goes Up for Sale

A80b656a-8b61-4e04-bed9-cac2dc73ddf2

The snowy owls are one of Audubon's most striking images.

On April 1, there will be an auction at Sotheby's in New York for a copy of what was, for years, the most expensive printed book ever sold at auction. Offered is a rare first edition, double elephant folio copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America. This title broke the record for a printed book at auction in 2000 when Christie's sold a copy for $8.8 million. In 2010, the book upped its own record when Sotheby's sold a copy for £7.32 million, or about $11.4 million in U.S. currency. Copies also sold for $5.6 million in 2005 and $7.9 million in 2012. Four copies sold for over $1 million prior to 2000.

 

Birds of America finally lost its distinction as the highest priced printed book ever at auction last November when a copy of the Bay Psalm Book sold for $14.16 million. This copy is not likely to regain the honor for Birds. It is not in as strong a condition as the Lord Hesketh copy sold in 2010. Nonetheless, the only question is how many millions of dollars it will bring.

 

In some ways, Birds of America is the anti-Bay Psalm. The latter is a very ordinary-looking book of pure text, psalms printed many times before. Its value emanates from its chronological standing. It was the first book printed in America. Additionally, only about a dozen copies are known to still exist. Birds of America was not a first book about American birds, and it is far more common, some 120 copies of the first edition known to be held in collections. What makes this book so spectacularly valuable is its beauty, the hand-colored magnificent drawings by Audubon in this massively sized book.

 

Birds of America was not published at once, but rather, the sheets were published annually and sent out to subscribers. It took many years – the first pages released in 1827, the final ones not until 1838. Because it was so expensive to publish, not many people could afford to buy it. It is estimated that 175-200 copies were printed. It was not profitable for Audubon. It was not until he published a smaller, cheaper edition a few years later that he finally generated the sales necessary to make a good income.

 

The copy to be sold currently is owned by the Indiana Historical Society. Someone at the Society made an extraordinarily shrewd move back in 1933 when they purchased this set for $4,000. That was a lot of money during the Depression, but time has shown that the best, most valuable books have proven to be the best investments. The typical book is valued today at 54 times what it was in 1933. That would peg a $4,000 book at $216,000 today. Birds is likely to sell for 15 or more times that amount.

 

The drawback to this copy is condition. We have not seen it so we cannot evaluate the copy. The Indiana Historical Society purchased it from a public library so it did see a fair amount of use when it was younger. The most expensive copies have been ones that were privately held throughout their lives by people who treated them with great care. The Indiana Historical Society has placed an estimate of $3 million on their copy, while describing their estimate as “conservative” and as a “minimum.” Sotheby's had not placed an estimate on it as of this writing, but their estimate will be more telling as they have far more experience in this than does the Historical Society. We will not be surprised if it is higher.

 

There will also be a second Audubon first edition owned by the Indiana Historical Society placed up for sale in this auction. They will be selling Audubon's one other book, his follow up, so to speak – Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. This one is generally just referred to as Quadrupeds as not everyone knows the meaning of “viviparous” (it refers to animals giving live birth, rather than laying eggs, primarily mammals). The second half of this book had to be completed by Audubon's son and his text-writing partner as ill health and memory issues plagued the great artist-ornithologist in his later years. The Society purchased this one in 1951 for $900 and has estimated it at $300,000.

 

One thing this copy of Birds has in common with the recent Bay Psalm is the reason for the sale. While a psalm book on its face was a logical possession for the Old South Church in Boston, the reality is that it was so valuable it had to be kept locked up in a safe somewhere off premises where no one could see it. The Church has many other financial needs, from its physical structure to outreach missions to the needy, while the book filled no particular need. The same applies to the Indiana Historical Society's relationship with its copies of Birds and Quadrupeds. CEO John Herbst explained, “while these sets are rare and valuable, they were acquired when the Indiana Historical Society’s mission was broader, more eclectic and not as focused on Indiana-related history as it is today.” Today, the Society is focused on Indiana items, and funds obtained will be used to add to those collections and add enough archival storage space to meet its needs for the next 30 years. “We continually see Indiana-specific items on the market that we’d like to have, but for which we need additional archive space and acquisition funds,” Mr. Herbst added. “This decision by our Collections Committee and Board helps us focus more and better preserve what we have, as well as acquire additional Indiana-related material.”

 

The sale will be held on Tuesday, April 1, at Sotheby's in New York. The sets will be available for viewing at Sotheby's Galleries the preceding six days, March 26-31.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts, 8 June 2016, New York
    Bonhams June 8: ARISTOTLE.<br>384-322 B.C.E. De animalibus <br>US$ 300,000-500,000.
  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. Iconic signed Darwin photograph "I like this photograph much better than any other which ..."
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. <i>Autograph Letter Signed</i>. Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> WRIGHT, WILBUR. Experiments and Observations in Soaring Flight. Journal of the Western Society of Engineers 8, no. 4 (August, 1903).
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH. Signed and dated Oxford 1931.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> GARDNER, ALEXANDER. Antietam Bridge, Maryland. "One of the memorable spots in the history of the war."

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions