10 of the Most Rare Books of All Time

10 of the Most Rare Books of All Time


10 of the Most Rare Books of All Time

1. The Declaration of Independence

The Rare Declaration of Independence

The original Declaration of Independence, signed by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams, is easily one of the rarest, most sought after documents of all time. There were only 200 copies of it printed on July 4th, 1776, and only about 26 copies survive to this day. Fun Fact: One of the copies was discovered behind a painting that was bought at a flea market for only $4! Since the document has a value of about $9 million, that’s quite the steal!

2. Shakespeare’s First Folio

William Shakespeare's First Folio

The works of William Shakespeare are amongst the most influential in the world, continuing to have great precedence in Western literature 400 years after his death in 1616. His First Folio is so rare because it is the first authoritative collection of his plays, compiled by his friends and business partners who helped run his theatre company. An estimated 750 copies were printed between 1622 and 1623. The First Folio contains 36 plays, originally with many typographical errors, and is preferred by most theatre companies over modern renditions of Shakespeare’s works.

3. The Gutenberg Bible

Rare Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1440, is the first book to have ever been printed on a printing press (by Johannes Gutenberg). To add to its uniqueness, the book was originally printed in folio form or as loose leaf pages that the owner would then get bound to their preference. There are only 48 copies left, and in 2007 a single leaf of one went on sale for $74,000.

4. The Birds of America

Audubon's Birds of America

The Birds of America is a result of legendary naturalist James Audubon’s determination in 1820 to illustrate, in detail, every bird in North America. And so he created a series of beautiful paintings titled The Birds of North America and mailed them to his subscribers one by one between 1827 and 1838.

5. The Codex of Leicester

Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook

The Codex of Leicester is a recording of scientific observations by one of the greatest minds to have ever lived, Leonardo Da Vinci. The 72 page manuscript is compiled of mental notes on his ideas of medical observations, futuristic inventions, and more. Because the notebook is one of a kind, there are no other copies and it was already purchased by Bill Gates in 1994 for over $30 million. He showcases it at various cities across the US, so keep on the lookout for it in your hometown!

6. Don Quixote

rare first edition of Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra published the first Don Quixote de La Mancha in 1605. The first edition last changed hands in 1989 for $1.5 million and is not very easy to hunt down these days. New translations of the book come out every 20 years or so. The first illustrated edition of Don Quixote translated in English is available with us.

7. Tamerlane and Other Poems

Tamerlane and Other Poems by Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe, one of the earliest American poets, published his first collection of poems anonymously. Tamerlane and Other Poems was supposedly not very good, but only printed 50 copies. Collectors are interested in the value of Poe’s anonymity – the book’s publisher is printed as simply “a Bostonian.”

8. Ptolemy’s Geographia Cosmographia

Ptolemy's Geographia rare maps

Ptolemy, who lived around 100 AD, contributed some of the most influential scientific findings in history. Though the printing press wasn’t invented in his lifetime, he hand drew a manual of maps that portrayed the world as he knew it at that time. The Geographia maps today are wildly inaccurate, but remain an important resource on the European view of the world in that time period. His model of a geocentric universe, one where the sun and planets revolve around the earth, outlived him and was considered fact for 1,400 years.

9. On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres

Copernicus On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres

Another great book of scientific discoveries is Copernicus’ On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres. This book contained the realization of a heliocentric universe, one where the sun, not the Earth, is the center of our solar system. This affected every institutional understanding of the world, from religion to science to philosophy. To avoid the fallout of being accused of heresy in his lifetime, Copernicus waited until he was on his deathbed before he published his findings. Today there are only 260 copies left of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, each roughly worth $1-2 million.

10. The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

In the final Harry Potter book, Albus Dumbledore bequeaths Hermione with the first edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a book about wizarding bedtime stories and folklore that lead to the discovery of the Deathly Hallows. The fictional book became such a hit that J.K. Rowling illustrated and published 7 handmade copies, decked out in leather and silver jewels, which granted them the name the Moonstone Edition. She gave 6 to the people who helped her make the Harry Potter series so successful, and sold the last to benefit the Children’s Voice charity.

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