Rare books



In a world full of printed books, magazines and eBooks, there are some publications that fill the imagination with their history, content – and rarity.


One such is the collection of observations made by Leonardo da Vinci, known as the Codex Leicester, named after the Earl of Leicester, who purchased it in 1719. The collection consists of 18 sheets of paper, each folded in half and covered on both sides to form a 72-page book, written in da Vinci’s unusual mirror style. The contents cover such topics as da Vinci’s theories on why fossils can be found in mountains, why the moon shines and, taking up the largest part of the manuscript, the theories behind the movement of water around obstacles, with suggestions for bridge building and combating erosion. The manuscript made headlines on November 11, 1994 when it was purchased by Bill Gates for over $30.8 billion at Christie’s auction house in New York. Gates had the manuscript scanned into digital format and used some of the images as screen savers for Windows 95. The Codex is now put on public display annually at a different city around the world.


Slightly more accessible is one of the 228 copies of the published collection of William Shakespeare’s plays, better known as the Shakespeare First Folio. Originally priced at £1 when published in 1623, only 750 copies are thought to have been produced by two of Shakespeare’s colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell. But you will need to dig deep to own your own copy – only one copy is believed to be held by a private collector and the most recently sold copy reached £2.5 million when auctioned in London by Sotheby’s on July 13, 2006. However, this was well below the £3.73 million reached by another copy when auctioned at Christie’s in New York in October, 2001.


Another notable rare book is the Sarajevo Haggadah – an illuminated manuscript from around 1350 containing the traditional text of the Passover – which survived wars, sieges and break-ins to be on display currently at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. The manuscript was recently insured for $7 million.


If you think these prices are beyond you, perhaps you should set your sights a little lower. How about an original copy of Tamerlane and Other Poems, by Edgar Allan Poe? There are around 12 copies still in existence from the around 50 originally published, but even one of these sold for $ 662,500 at a Christie’s auction in December, 2009.


So to own your own very rare book, you’ll probably need to be a millionaire. But don’t despair – many of the world’s rarest books are available for free viewing at libraries around the world. Enjoy!


And if you long to have a rare book of your own, browse through the bidorbuy section of antiquarian and collectable books.