World's most expensive book to hit the auction block

Last Updated : 20 October 2010, 04:43 IST

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The sale of 'Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings' takes one on a journey of printed books from a rare example by England's first printer, William Caxton, through indisputably the most important book in English Literature, Shakespeare's "First Folio", to a great landmark of natural history John James Audubon's "Birds of America".

The sale, which has an estimate of 8-10 million pounds, is a selection of books, manuscripts and drawings from the distinguished collection of the estate of the 2nd Baron Hesketh, an aristocratic book collector who died in 1955.

The collection was built up by successive generations of the family, and shows the best of every aspect of the bibliophile's endeavour: typography, illustration, literary, illumination, historical importance, and fine binding.

"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," said David Goldthorpe, director and senior specialist in Sotheby's Books and Manuscripts Department.

"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'," Goldthorpe said. Renowned ornithologist, naturalist and painter, Audubon (1785-1851) is one of the key influential figures in natural history. Quoted three times by Charles Darwin in "The Origin of Species", Audubon's work inspired generations of ornithologists, in particular his famed "Birds of America", a copy of which is included in the sale with an estimate of 4,000,000-6,000,000 pounds.

The extremely rare, 'virtually unmarred' copy of the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, the 'First Folio' dates from 1623, and has 451 out of the original 454 leaves, but contains the complete text to all the plays. It has an estimate of 1,000,000-1,500,000 pounds.

It is one of only two other textually complete copies to exist in private hands in a comparably early binding. Containing 36 plays, the "First Folio" is the cardinal point of all Shakespeare's dramatic output. Eighteen of the 36 plays included in the "Folio", among them "Macbeth", "The Tempest" and "Twelfth Night", were printed for the first time, which means that without the Folio they might well have been lost forever.

Published 20 October 2010, 04:43 IST

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