World's most expensive book to go under the hammer

Fri Sep 10, 2010 1:34am EDT
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A rare book by America's most famous bird artist, John James Audubon, billed as the most expensive in the world, is going under the hammer in December alongside a first edition of Shakespeare's plays.

"Birds of America," which is estimated to sell for between 4 million and 6 million pounds ($6.2-$9.2 million), was said by auctioneer Sotheby's to have inspired generations of ornithologists.

When a copy of the book with hand-colored, life-size prints of birds was last sold in 2000, by rival firm Christie's, it set a world record price for a printed book, fetching $8.8 million.

Only 119 copies of "Birds of America" are known to exist. The book contains 1,000 illustrations of about 500 breeds of birds and took Audubon 12 years to complete. Audubon, who died in 1851, was an influential natural historian. He was quoted three times in Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species."

Sotheby's said the auction, on December 7 in London, will also include a book widely regarded as the most important in all English literature -- the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, "First Folio," dated from 1623.

The "First Folio," with 36 plays including "Macbeth," "The Tempest," and "Twelfth Night," is expected to sell for between 1.0 and 1.5 million pounds ($1.5-$2.3 million).

"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,"" Sotheby's spokesman David Goldthorpe said in a statement.

Sotheby's said the two books were among a lot of 50 books, manuscripts and drawings from the collection of Lord Hesketh who died in 1955.

It also includes a series of letters by Queen Elizabeth I, the Earl of Leicester and the spy Francis Walsingham relating to the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots.

The sale also boasts the largest group of rose drawings by Pierre-Joseph Redoute, to come on the market since a sale by his patron and pupil the Duchesse de Berry in 1837.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Dean Goodman)