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Million dollar books

Otis commissioned me to research and write a piece on 10 of the most expensive works of literature that have ever been sold. I learnt so much while writing this piece, and also got a chance to put my auction house experience to good use!

Did you know that Casanova (yes, from the film) wrote a massive memoir that was lost during World War II and then recovered? Or that Jack Kerouac typed On the Road on a single scroll that was nibbled on by a dog? Or that it was actually Jane Austen's nephew who titled her incomplete story The Watsons?

Read on for an excerpt from my article.

Image courtesy of the William Blake Archive

All books are not equal. Some are old and have aged well. Some were published in a first run without enough to go around. And some were signed by the author, or owned by someone famous. ‍Any of these factors might render a book rare, and in recent years, manuscripts such as The Book of Mormon and Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester have commanded millions of dollars.  

How do other works of literature fare? We take a look at ten of the most expensive literary books and manuscripts to enter the market (excluding religious, scientific and historical texts and treatises), seven of which were written prior to the 19th century. ‍ 

1. Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories and Tragedies 

Sold in October 2020 for $9.98 million by Christie's, New York. 

Published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, the "First Folio" is one of six complete copies of the Bard's collected plays to be privately owned. Out of 36 plays, approximately half had never appeared in print until this compilation. 

In October 2001, another complete copy of the First Folio was sold by Christie's for $6.17 million, but the 2020 sold edition become the most expensive printed work of literature to be auctioned to date. Accompanied by a letter written and signed by Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone in 1806, this volume was bought by American collector Stephan Loewentheil.

Read the full article for nine more books that sold for over a million dollars.