5 of the Most Sought-After Rare Books in History

A page of a rare book

5 of the Most Sought-After Rare Books in History

Something is mesmerizing about holding a first edition copy of a one-of-a-kind book in your hands. Smelling its musty yet magical cover and gently turning those precious pages to uncover the gem within is sheer joy for bibliophiles. Rare books are like The Oppenheimer Blue Diamond (sold for $57.5 million) to book collectors and enthusiasts alike. People will travel thousands of miles to glimpse some of these books. Part of what makes this experience so incredible is how difficult it is to get, especially in the case of the most sought-after, rare books in history.

Shakespeare’s First Folio

Few writers can boast over 400 years at the top of their field. Shakespeare is one of these. The first authoritative collection of Shakespeare’s plays is known as his First Folio. Shakespeare’s First Folio was compiled only a few years after his death in 1616. Only 750 copies were printed at that time, and it is widely considered the best rendition of his 36 most famous plays, despite, or possibly because of, its many typographical errors. Rare book enthusiasts understand that First Folio‘s complete copy only shows up once every thirty years. The most recent copy was auctioned in 2020 at Christie’s in New York City for almost $10 million.

The Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible might be the most well-known rare book. Printed in 1400, the Gutenberg Bible is so famous because it is the first book printed on a printing press. With only 48 copies remaining, an original Gutenberg Bible is possibly the most valuable book. Because public institutions own nearly all the copies, it is almost impossible to get even a portion of the book, let alone a full manuscript. In 2007, a single leaf went for nearly $75,000.

Ptolemy’s Geographia Cosmographia

If you have not heard of Ptolemy, you should have! Born around 100 AD, he is one of history’s most influential scientists. A Greek astronomer and geographer, Ptolemy offered the prevailing theory of the solar system and earth’s geography for 1400 years. His Geographia Cosmographia contains beautifully detailed, colorful, hand-drawn maps. Even though they are not even close to being accurate, they were used for over a millennium. Found in the Library of Congress, this rare book features 32 fascinating historical maps.

Beedle the Bard

Books do not have to be old-fashioned to be extremely valuable. One of the rarest books in the world is the Moonstone Edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling. In the original Harry Potter books, a book bequeathed from Albus Dumbledore to Hermione offers vital clues about the Deathly Hallows. Because of its popularity, Rowling decided to write the book. She published only seven handmade copies. Each copy was bound in leather and decorated in silver and gemstones. Five of these copies were given to friends. The last book was sold to benefit a charity for almost $500,000.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

It may surprise some people to find out that one of the highest-selling books in the world is worth a fortune. The book most people know as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling is not the same as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by Joanne Rowling. The former publication has sold over 120 million copies worldwide. The latter publication was the very first edition of the first book in what would only become a series if it sold enough copies. Unbelievably, only 500 copies were printed. While the printer grossly underestimated the future success of the Harry Potter series, printing so few copies made each one worth from $50,000 to $100,000.

Great books are treasures in and of themselves. Rare books are priceless. Rare book collectors and enthusiasts worldwide have at least one thing in common. They understand that even looking at an original manuscript, first edition, or rare book is more than just an event. It is an experience.

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