On December 6th, a copy of James Audubon's 'Birds of America' sold at a Sothebys auction for $11.5mm USD, making it the world's most expensive printed book.The book was snatched up by British book collector Michael Tollemache, who described his expensive acquisition as 'priceless'.
Published in four sections between 1827 and 1838, it contains 1000 hand colored illustrations of 500 species of birds - A task that took the painter about 12 years to complete. Measuring 3ft. by 2ft., because Mr. Audubon wanted to paint the birds life-size, the book was first printed in black and white and then hand colored.
Today, there are only 119 editions believed to be around, most of which are housed in museums. With less than a dozen in the hands of private collectors and the fact that this particular edition was one of the best preserved copies - the steep price was not surprising. A previous edition that came to the market in March of 2000, sold for over $8mm USD.
James Audubon was a 19th century naturalist, ornithologist and painter who made it a mission to search out and paint all the birds of America. However, his masterpieces did not impress the Americans and it was not until he trekked to Britain that he could raise enough money to publish his monumental book, which was so big, that it was initially dubbed 'Double Elephant Folio'.
While Mr. Audubon was not the first to document American birds, his approach to painting is what made it stand out - Unlike other ornithologists who prepared and stuffed the specimens into a rigid pose, he propped each specimen to their natural position with the help of wires. He also spent a lot of time observing, studying and sketching birds in their natural environment. His paintings therefore portrayed the birds in action - like feeding or hunting. To see the rest of his stunning artwork go to www.audubon.org.
While this edition of 'Birds of America' was the most expensive printed book ever sold, it is by no means the most expensive book ever sold - That honor goes to billionaire Bill Gates, who paid $31mm USD for The Codex Leicester, a 72 page collection of largely scientific writings, penned by Renaissance artist, Leonardo Da Vinci.
Sources: guardian.co.uk,web4audobon.com, wikipedia,org