The World's Most Expensive Book at Auction

audubonbooks.pngComing up later this month at Christie's, the Duke of Portland's four-volume set of John James Audubon's Birds of America, the most expensive book ever sold at auction. Estimated at $7-10 million, bibliophiles will wait with bated breath to find out if the duke's Birds will break the current world record of $11.5 million, set at Sotheby's sale of Lord Hesketh's rare books and manuscripts in December of 2010. The duke's set is bound in full crimson wide gilt-panelled morocco (seen here at left) and is, according to Christie's, "in very fine condition, with colors fresh and bright, and showing minimal handling evidence."

Audubon was an itinerant artist who traversed the American wilderness of the early nineteenth century, drawing birds. His idea to create an oversized folio of more than four hundred hand-colored plates showing the birds in life-size was visionary; it was also prohibitively expensive. He relied on subscriptions to raise the necessary funds. His magnificently illustrated double-elephant folio was issued in parts in the years 1827-1838, initially printed by W.H. Lizars of Edinburgh, but soon transferred to Robert Havell & Son in London. 
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Above: Audubon's Roseate Spoonbill

In terms of the edition size and rarity of extant copies, it is estimated that approximately 200 complete copies of the folio were made. Today, about 120 are accounted for; with only thirteen in private hands. Christie's further reports that since 1973, twenty-four copies of the book have come to auction, fourteen of which have been sold incomplete or on a sheet-by-sheet basis. 

The sale will be held on January 20 at Christie's New York.

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