World's most expensive book, $8.8m Birds of America, goes to auction

Only 119 complete copies are known to exist, it took its artist creator 12 years to complete - including travelling across America - and it sold for $8.8m (£5.7m) a decade ago.

John James Audubon's Birds of America is going under the hammer at Sotheby's on December 7, and is likely to consolidate its status as the world's most expensive book.

The seminal work is auctioning from the collection of the late Lord Hesketh, whose other highlights include a rare copy of Shakespeare's First Folio.

A painting from Audubon's Birds
of America

Not unreasonably, the First Folio has been described by Sotheby's as "the most important book in all of English Literature."

One of only three textually complete copies held in private hands, the work dates to 1623 and is estimated at £1.5 million.

With just three pages missing, the First Folio is one of an estimated 750 ever printed. Just 219 copies are known to exist today.

Audubon's Birds of America, meanwhile, boasts 1,000 life-sized illustrations of almost 500 breeds of bird.

The author researched his work by journeying across America, shooting the various species. He then hung them on wire, and painted each one.

Audubon travelled to Britain to print the book and sell it to rich buyers. And now Birds of America will once again be targeted at rich buyers when it appears for sale in December.

Other high profile lots from the Lord Hesketh Collection auctioning at Sotheby's include Royal letters scribed by the likes of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.

Meanwhile, if you can't make - or wait for - Sotheby's December sale, a number of other rare and highly valuable letters written by Monarchs are presently for sale on the collectors' markets.

Or you can read Paul's exclusive column: "Why Royal memorabilia offers you a royal investment."


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