Our Top Five... Most valuable novels ever sold at auction

Today is World Book Day, a global celebration of books and reading. We thought we'd take the opportunity to offer you our top five novels to ever go to auction.


James Joyce's landmark modernist work Ulysses is now regarded as a masterpiece, but when it was first offered to publishers there was a great deal of reluctance. The work is difficult to understand - that was Joyce's intention - thought to be obscene and like nothing which had gone before it.

The book was first published in Paris on February 2, 1922, on the author's 40th birthday. Only 1,000 copies were initially printed by the then obscure Shakespeare and Company.

Two only were signed by Joyce. One of these became part of John Quinn's collection before it passed to a museum, whilst the other was sold at Christie's in 2002. Its inscription "To Henry Kaeser James Joyce Dijon 12 October 1922" is to the publisher who provided the second printing of the work, on the day that went into production. The copy sold for a staggering $460,000, trouncing its $200,000-300,000 listing.

A Christmas Carol

This cheery Christmas message from Charles Dickens has been hugely popular ever since its publication in 1843. The first run of 6,000 copies was published on December 17 and ran out by Christmas Eve. A first edition sold for £181,250 at a Sotheby's auction in London in October 2010.

A first edition complete with Mr and Mrs Fezziwig

It has been the subject of innumerable television and film adaptations, including Alistair Sim's famous 1951 depiction of Scrooge.

The Great Gatsby

A rare first edition of The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald was sold at a Christie's New York auction for £100,000 in October 2002, doubling its estimate. This tale of New York in the roaring 20s was first published in 1925 and is regarded as one of the great works of American literature.

Down And Out In Paris And London

A rare signed copy of Down And Out In Paris And London by George Orwell sold for £86,000 at auction in 2010. This semi-autobiographical novel, published in 1933, was the first full-length work by Eton educated Orwell, who conducted thorough research for the book by joining tramps on the roads of England and dishwashing in Paris restaurants.

Alice in Wonderland

A rare edition of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll sold for £71,000 at auction in 2009. The book was originally a gift from Carroll to Alice Liddell, the girl on whom the book's Alice is purportedly based. This novel, popular with adults and children alike, has been the subject of much scholarly debate, and was first published in 1865.

As book collectors and investors will know, these prices are comparatively small when compared with those for some other books. Bird of America by John James Audubon is a comprehensive ornithological study featuring 435 hand-coloured engraved plates and became the world's most expensive book when it sold for £7.3m in December 2010.


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