• Sagen & Delås Auctions
    Towards the Poles: Accounts of Polar Exploration
    June 15, 2024
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ROALD AMUNDSEN: PHOTO of «Fram» SIGNED by 17 members of the South Pole Expedition, Including Amundsen. €6,900 to €8,600.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ROALD AMUNDSEN: «Sydpolen», 1912. IN PARTS. €1,280 to €2,150.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: JEAN-BAPTISTE CHARCOT: «Expédition Antarctique Francaise […] 1903-1905. », 1906. RARE, SIGNED. €2,100 to €3,400.
    Sagen & Delås Auctions
    Towards the Poles: Accounts of Polar Exploration
    June 15, 2024
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: FREDERICK A. COOK: «Through the first Antarctic Night 1898-1899. […]», 1900. First LIMITED & SIGNED edition. €2,100 to €3,400.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: JAPANESE ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION UNDER NOBU SHIRASE: «Watashi no Nankyoku Tanken-ki», 1942. Publisher's wrappers. €1,280 to €2,135.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: FRIDTJOF NANSEN: «Fram over Polhavet», 1897. LOT - 6 Variant bindings. €1,250 to €2,100.
    Sagen & Delås Auctions
    Towards the Poles: Accounts of Polar Exploration
    June 15, 2024
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ABRAHAM ORTELIUS: «Septentrionalium Regionum Descrip», 1570. Beautiful handcoloured first state map. €2,950 to €3,800.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: SCOTTISH NATIONAL ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION: [W. S. BRUCE]: «Life in the Antarctic», 1907. 2 copies in wrappers. €85 to €250.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ERNEST SHACKLETON: «The British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-9», 1909. Publisher's wrappers. €510 to €1,025.
    Sagen & Delås Auctions
    Towards the Poles: Accounts of Polar Exploration
    June 15, 2024
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: ERNEST SHACKLETON: «South», 1919. An attractive copy in publisher's cloth. €2,550 to €4,265.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: UNITED STATES EXPLORING EXPEDITION UNDER CHARLES WILKES (1838-1842): «Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition», 1845. €3,400 to €5,100.
    Sagen & Delås, June 15: HUBERT WILKINS: «Under the North Pole», 1931 | CONTRIBUTORS EDITION - LIMITED TO 29 COPIES. €1,280 to €2,550.
  • Heritage Auctions, June 27
    F. Scott Fitzgerald
    The Great Gatsby
    New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Mary Shelley
    Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
    London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    J. R. R. Tolkien
    The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again
    London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1937
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Jane Austen
    Emma: A Novel. In Three Volumes. By the Author of "Pride and Prejudice," &c. &c.
    London: Printed for John Murray, 1816
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Robert Louis Stevenson
    An Inland Voyage
    London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1878
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Ernest Hemingway
    Three Stories & Ten Poems
    Paris: Contact Publishing Co., 1923
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
    History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark
    Philadelphia, 1814
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Emily Dickinson
    Autograph letter signed ("Emily and Vinnie"), to Mary Adelaide Hills
    Amherst, MA, Late April, 1880
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    John Keats
    Autograph letter signed ("John Keats"), to Mrs. Jeffrey
    Honiton 4 or 5 May 1818
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Samuel Johnson
    A Dictionary of the English Language: In which the Words are deduced from their Originals…
    London, 1765
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    H. P. Lovecraft
    Small archive of nine lengthy autograph letters signed variously over a period of six years to J. Vernon Shea.
    Various places, 1931-1937
    Heritage Auctions, June 27
    Izaak Walton
    The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative Man's Recreation…
    London: T. homas Maxey for Rich. ard Marriot, 1653
  • Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Keats, John] Spenser, Edmund: The Works of that Famous English Poet, Mr. Edmond Spenser. $50,000 - $80,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: (Walton, Izaak): The Compleat Angler or the Contemplative man's Recreation. Being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing. $30,000 - $50,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Thomas, Gabriel: An Historical and Geographical Account of the Province and Country of Pensilvania; and of West-New-Jersey in America. $25,000 - $35,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Carroll, Lewis]: The Game of Alice in Wonderland. $2,000 - $3,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: Athias, Joseph, et al.: Biblia Hebraica. $7,000 - $10,000.
    Freeman’s | Hindman, June 25: [Warhol, Andy, and Jens Quistgaard] Dansk Designs Salesman's Presentation Catalogue. $2,500 - $3,500.
  • Sotheby’s, June 26: Poe, Edgar Allan. Tamerlane — the most poignant rarity in American literature. 400,000 - 600,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: The Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." 2,500,000 - 5,000,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: William Blake. “Poems with very wild and interesting pictures” 1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, June 26: Thomas Taylor [artist]. The original cover art for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 400,000 - 600,000 USD

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2014 Issue

Tracking the Most Expensive Book – A Copy of Audubon's Birds of America is Sold

A copy of the most expensive, reasonably obtainable printed book was sold at auction at the beginning of April. The double-elephant folio first edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America was hammered down at Sotheby's in New York on April 1. For years, Audubon's Birds held the record for the highest price ever reached at auction. It was pushed down a notch last fall when a copy of the Bay Psalm Book surpassed its record, but the Bay Psalm is not really obtainable. It had been 66 years since the previous copy was offered at auction, and it's unlikely that any of us will live long enough to see another one come around. A Gutenberg Bible would obtain many, many times as much as a Bay Psalm if it ever reached market, but none of those have been seen since early in the last century. An Audubon first is still obtainable, a copy coming to market every few years.

 

This can be explained by the relative commonness of a first edition Birds of America. There are believed to be at least 120 copies of it still in existence. Only 11 copies of the Bay Psalm Book are known to have survived. Many more copies of the Bay Psalm Book were said to have been printed, but it was not a spectacular production and would have been used until worn ragged. Audubon's Birds was a spectacularly beautiful book. Most copies were lovingly cared for and handed down through the generations.

 

This copy did not achieve anything like the $11.4 million record reached by the Lord Hesketh copy in 2010. It wasn't expected to be close. The Lord Hesketh copy was in pristine condition. This one was not. It wasn't in bad shape; it just wasn't particularly good either. Instead, it sold for $3,525,000. That was above the $3 million estimate of its previous owner, the Indiana Historical Society, and within the $3-$5 million estimate range given by Sotheby's.

 

The Indiana Historical Society purchased its copy in 1933, for a very reasonable price of $4,000. That was during the height of the Depression, so bargains were undoubtedly available, especially since $4,000 would have been a meaningful amount of money in those days. Nonetheless, a gain of 88,000% is more than good, even for 80 years. Whoever made that purchase on behalf of the Indiana Historical Society is owed a big “thank you.”

 

The shortcoming in terms of value with this copy is that it had been purchased by the Indiana Historical Society from a library. Library copies are often actually used, as opposed to being gently placed on a bookshelf. There was some soiling and other evidences of use. Linen backing to the plates did not help. Still, $3.5 million is serious cash. We do not know this for certain, but would not be surprised if this is the highest price ever paid for an ex-library book.

 

This was the fifth copy of this book to come up for sale at auction this century. The most recent previous copy sold in 2012 for $7,922,500. Before that, the then record setting Hesketh copy went in 2010. Another copy sold in 2005 for $5,616,000, and one sold in 2000 for $8,802,500. The 2000 sale also set a record for the most expensive printed book ever sold at auction at that time, not surpassed until the Hesketh copy a decade later. At least four copies of the book sold in the 20th century for over $1 million.

 

Along with Audubon's most famous work, one other book was sold at Sotheby's auction. It was a copy of Audubon's other great color plate book – a first edition of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. It sold for $245,000. The Indiana Historical Society purchased this book in 1951 for $900.

 

The Probability of Reappearance tool that comes with the AE Database estimates that another copy of the first edition of Birds of America will likely come around for auction again in roughly another 3 years. If you are interested in getting the next one, we suggest you start saving your pennies today.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Doyle, June 20: CLAUDE MCKA. Home to Harlem. New York: Harpers, 1928. First edition. $700 to $1,000.
    Doyle, June 20: Haydn's VI Original Canzonettas, signed by the composer. $4,000 to $6,000.
    Doyle, June 20: A rare EP sleeve inscribed by John Lennon. $800 to $1,200.
    Doyle, June 20: An extremely rare 1961 concert set list and autograph letter from The King. $7,000 to $10,000.
    Doyle, June 20: Bryan Batt's copy of the Mad Men Yearbook, 2008-2014. $600 to $800.
    Doyle, June 20: An original Al Hirschfeld depicting comedian Fred Allen. $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 20: A signed note from George Gershwin with reference to Porgy and Bess. $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 20: An original Harold Arlen manuscript musical quotation from "Over the Rainbow.” $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 20: A fine original Edith Head sketch for Grace Kelly's wedding trousseau. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Doyle, June 20: The poster for New Faces with inscriptions and the signature of Eartha Kitt. $200 to $300.
    Doyle, June 20: The classic "Jazz" Bowl by Viktor Schreckengost for Cowan Pottery. $15,000 to $25,000.
    Doyle, June 20: Tony Award Medallion won for "Kismet." $3,000 to $5,000.
  • Doyle, June 18: Stephen Sondheim's personalized Sweeney Todd asylum coat and jacket. $400 to $600.
    Doyle, June 18: Twelve Posters for Stephen Sondheim Musicals. $400 to $600.
    Doyle, June 18: Stephen Sondheim's Gold Record for the soundtrack to West Side Story. $1,000 to $1,500.
    Doyle, June 18: A manuscript musical quotation from Passion. The quotation headed "Tranquillo" above the music, the lyrics are also written out: "lov-ing you is not a choice, it's who I am..." 11 x 14 inches. $800 to $1,200.
    Doyle, June 18: Stephen Sondheim's retained set of The Sondheim Review. Comprising a complete run of Volume 1, Number 1 (Summer 1994) to Volume XXI, Number 4 (Fall 2015). $500 to $800.
    Doyle, June 18: Five amusing Victorian-era game boards, including Snakes and Ladders. $200 to $300.
    Doyle, June 18: A cased tabletop croquet set and two horse racing games. $300 to $500.
    Doyle, June 18: Four Posters Related to Various Sondheim Productions. $300 to $500.
    Doyle, June 18: The rare first American edition of The Phantom of the Opera. $100 to $200.
  • Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 4. Blaeu's Magnificent Carte-a-Figures World Map in Full Contemporary Color (1642) Est. $12,000 - $15,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 125. 1775 Edition of the Landmark Fry-Jefferson Map of Virginia and Maryland (1775) Est. $15,000 - $18,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 673. Rare Frontispiece in Full Contemporary Color with Gilt Highlights (1662) Est. $4,000 - $4,750
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 717. Complete Tanner Atlas with Important Maps of Texas & Iowa (1845) Est. $4,000 - $4,750
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 3. Henricus Hondius' Baroque-Style World Map (1641) Est. $9,500 - $11,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 258. Complete Set of De Bry's Native Virginians & Picts from Part I of Grands Voyages (1608) Est. $2,750 - $3,500
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 608. Superb Work on 18th Century Russia with over 100 Maps and Plates (1788) Est. $3,500 - $4,250
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 49. One of the Most Important 16th Century Maps of the New World (1556) Est. $5,000 - $6,000
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 706. Superb Image of the Annunciation in Contemporary Hand Color (1518) Est. $900 - $1,100
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 123. One of the Earliest Maps to Show Philadelphia (1695) Est. $4,000 - $4,750
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 631. One of the Earliest Printed Maps of Afghanistan & Pakistan (1482) Est. $1,900 - $2,200
    Old World Auctions (Jun 5-19):
    Lot 689. Proof Copy Engraving of the Senate Floor During the Compromise of 1850 (1855) Est. $1,500 - $1,800
  • Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 19: Lot 70 - Warner (Robert). The Orchid Album, 11 volumes, 1882-1897. £5,000 to £8,000
    Dominic Winter, June 19: Lot 151 - United States. Melish (John), Map of the United States with..., British & Spanish Possessions, 1816. £40,000 to £60,000
    Dominic Winter, June 19: Lot 159 - World. Speed (John), A New and Accurat Map of the World, 1676. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 503 - American Civil War playing cards. Union Cards, New York: American Card Co., 1862. £500 to £800
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 573 - Shepard (Ernest Howard), 'The Hour is Come’, original watercolour, [1959]. £10,000 to £15,000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 922 - Wilde (Oscar). An Ideal Husband, large paper limited issue, 1899. £4,000 to £6,000
    Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 744 - Disney (Walt). “Sketch Book” [of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs], 1938. £700 to £1,000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 771 - Auden (Wystan Hugh). Portrait of the head of W. H. Auden, 1970. £1,000 to £1,500
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 822 - Fleming (Ian). Goldfinger, 1st edition, signed by the author, 1959. £6,000 to £8,000
    Dominic Winter Auctioneers
    Auctions on June 19
    and June 20
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 895 - Rowling (J. K.). A complete inscribed set of Harry Potter books plus ephemera. £8,000 to £12,0000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 883 - Orwell (George). Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1st edition, London: Secker & Warburg, 1949. £3,000 to £5,000
    Dominic Winter, June 20: Lot 700 - Ashendene Press. T. Lucreti Cari De Rerium Natura Libri Sex, Chelsea: Ashendene Press, 1913. £4,000 to £6,000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions