December 20, 2019
Abe announces most expensive book sales of 2019; Abe wins
by Tom ClaytonRare book dealership AbeBooks.co.uk have announced their most expensive sales of 2019. Fantasize about owning some pricey antique tomes here!
The list, which includes works by Dashiel Hammett, Mark Twain, and—rather pleasingly—Abraham Lincoln, was put up earlier in the week. It contains a landmark sale for the company: the most expensive J.K. Rowling purchase ever made on the site, at £30,000 for a complete set of signed deluxe hardback editions. The collection came second in this year’s rundown.
And the winner? Honest Abe, with the “Presidential Edition” of his complete works. Limited to just 50 copies and produced in 1905, 50 years after his assassination, The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln consists of 12 volumes (bound in 23), and features “engraved portraits, views and maps, photogravures, and facsimile letters. The frontispiece in each volume is an original watercolour of a log cabin.” The books sold for £30,600 earlier this year.
Abe’s most expensive sale since their inception in 1996 came in 2015, when Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo e adornata di figure intagliate in rame e miniate al naturale. Ornithologia methodice digesta atque iconibus aeneis ad vivum illuminatis* by Violante Vanni, Lorenzo Lorenzi & Saverio Manetti sold for £125,000—the only book in Abe’s history to break three figures. Next in the all-time list is, predictably, a first edition of The Hobbit from 1937, one of just 1500 produced.
Tolkien also figures in the 2019 list, with a complete 1954/55 set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy fetching £14,500. Elsewhere, a 1930 first edition of The Maltese Falcon went for £19,130 and a limited edition of The Writings of Mark Twain, spanning 25 volumes and produced between 1899 and 1907, fetched the same price.
Of course, away from online retailers prices begin to skyrocket. According to this list produced by Bookstr in 2017, the most expensive book ever sold is an original handwritten copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester, bought at auction for $30.8 million in 1994 and now owned by Bill Gates. Apparently, several of its pages went on to feature as screensavers on Windows 95.
Perhaps if I hold on to my battered Goosebumps collection for long enough I’ll be in the money. For now, we can but dream…
*Natural History of Birds Treated Systematically and Adorned with Copperplate Engraving Illustrations, in Miniature and Life-Size, for those of you who aren’t fluent.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.