World’s most expensive book to be auctioned for €7.25m

A RARE copy of the world’s most expensive book, a huge 19th century digest of birds painted to life-size, is to be auctioned for up to €7.25 million.

The volume of John James Audubon’s Birds Of America forms part of a collection of literary treasures which could fetch as much as €12m.

London auction house Sotheby’s will sell the works – including a 1623 collection of Shakespeare plays – which belonged to the late Lord Hesketh, in December.

Another copy of Audubon’s book set a world record price at auction a decade ago.

Only 119 copies of naturalist and artist Audubon’s book are known to survive, with just a handful owned privately – 108 of them are in academic or museum collections.

He would shoot the birds on his travels, then paint them to full scale.

His book was so widely regarded in his day – he died in 1851 – that it was mentioned in Charles Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species.

David Goldthorpe, director and senior specialist in Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department, said: “Unlike other libraries which specifically focus on, for instance, literature, history or science, the 50 lots coming from this magnificent collection are an example of what is known as ‘high spot collecting’ – when a collector seeks out the very best across a range of fields.

“For example, the sale offers the twin peaks of book collecting – the most expensive book in the world, Audubon’s Birds of America, and the most important book in all of English Literature, Shakespeare’s First Folio.”

The Shakespeare volume includes 36 plays and only 219 copies of the 750 published are still in existence.

Only two copies have such complete text and with such an early binding, and it is expected to fetch more than €1m at the sale on December 7.

Most works in the sale were acquired by Frederick Fermor-Hesketh, 2nd Baron Hesketh, who died in 1955 at the age of 39.


It came as quite a surprise to learn that I had been writing my Weekend column in the Irish Examiner for 21 years — how the years have flown by and how the food scene has changed in Ireland over those two decades.A letter from Darina Allen, celebrating 21 years writing for The Irish Examiner

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