World's Most Expensive Book 'Birds Of America' To Be Auctioned For £6.5m
A copy of Birds of America, the most expensive book in the world, is to go under the hammer later this month at Christie's and is expected to sell for $10m (£6.5m).
The three foot high, 19th century masterpiece includes 435 hand-coloured, life-sized engravings of America's native bird completed by French-American ornithologist and painter John James Audubon.
In 2010, one of the other 120 surviving copies of Birds of America left sold for £7.3m at Sotheby's - a world record for a single book. Experts believe around 200 copies were produced between 1827-1838. Of the surviving copies, 107 are in institutions and 13 are in private hands.
Audubon spent more than 14 years observing and drawing birds in order to produce Birds of America, which was designed to take the reader on a visual tour of America's ornithological landscape.
The pages were organised for artistic effect and were designed to make the reader feel as though they were taking a visual tour. It took more than 14 years of field observations and drawings to complete.
Francis Wahlgren, head of Christie's books and manuscripts, said: "The overall cost to print a set at the time was estimated to be 115,000 pounds sterling, which would be over $2 million today. That is why Audubon had to presell to wealthy families with subscriptions to fund the production".
Because of his devotion to portraying the birds to full, life-size scale, Audubon had to paint many of them bending down or feeding in order to fit them on the page.
Richard Davies, of rare and used book specialist AbeBooks, told the Guardian: "Aside from being famous in the rare book world, Birds of America has also immense historical and ornithological importance. Some of the birds John James Audubon painted are extinct and he also discovered new species."
Some of the world's other pricey items from literature include William Shakespeare's First Folio, a first edition of the bard's play that sold at auction in 2006 for $5.1m (£3.3m) and Leonardo Da Vinci's Codex Leicester, a notebook filled with the Italian artists original drawings and sketches which was bought by Bill Gates in 1994 for a staggering $30.8m (£19.9m).