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The Priciest Story Ever Sold

Phillip Hainhofer’s 17th-century “friendship book”

A 17th-century “Friendship Book”—basically a kind of autograph book that was popular in European courts at that time—recently sold at auction for $3.1m. That feels like a lot of Benjamins for a 400 year-old scrapbook, even if, “The friendship book contains about 100 signatures from powerful rulers, each accompanied by colorful illustrations commissioned from court artists by royal dignitaries.”

But this Friendship Book is not the most expensive book to ever sell at auction.

If you can’t swing a stick in North Carolina without hitting a writer, it seems you can’t dive into the contemporary literary scene anymore without running into the behemoth of J.K. Rowling. Back in 2007, she hand-illustrated six copies of a book, Tales of Beedle the Bard, and gave away five copies as gifts. The sixth copy sold at auction for $4.89m. At least the proceeds went to Lumos, Rowling’s children’s charity.

But even that’s not the most expensive book ever sold.

William Shakespeare’s First Folio sold for $8.86m back in 2001. A rare 1477 first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales sold at auction for $11.69m in 2001.

Original or rare religious manuscripts, including The Guttenberg Bible, easily command tens of millions at auction.

The priciest book? Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex of Leicester, also known as the Codex Hammer, which sold for $52.8m in 1994. “Written between the years of 1506 and 1510, the 72-page notebook provides a rare glimpse inside da Vinci’s mind, complete with sketches, diagrams, and early iterations of ideas.”

The buyer? Bill Gates.

This blogger recalls viewing the original type-written scroll of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road as it toured the country some twenty years ago. It had just sold then for around $3.5m. Which seems now like a pretty good deal….

(All prices adjusted for inflation.)