Our fascination with writing has existed for thousands of years; from cuneiform to hieroglyphs, early alphabets and script-forms, all of which has evolved to the letters we know today. We've also gone from stone tablets, to parchment, to mass-production of literature thanks to Gutenberg's printing press and the Renaissance. Some of the books printed throughout history are so rare that they go for a pretty penny on the market. While most books are available to the consumer in print or digital format, a first edition would be out of the question. Here are examples of some of the rarest and most expensive works of fiction ever sold.
The Canterbury Tales
The first ever printed edition of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is the priciest piece of fiction in existence. Written over a period of 13 years from 1387 to 1400, it is a collection of 24 stories written in Middle English. Originally published almost a century after the author's death in 1478, only 10 copies are known to exist. London book dealers the Mags Brothers purchased it for 7.5 Million US Dollars in 1998. When we adjust for inflation then the price is roughly 11 Million US Dollars in 2017. While it is not the highest amount ever paid for a book, it's not even in the top 5 in fact, it is the most anyone has ever paid for a work of literary fiction.
Aside from this fact, Chaucer's magnum opus is considered to have popularized the use of the English language in literature, in a time when French and Latin were more common in England.
8.29 USD Amazon
Shakespeare's First Folio
We all know Shakespeare. Most of us have either seen or read some variation of Romeo & Juliet, or barring that, heard the phrase "To be Or Not To Be..." from Hamlet. His overall effect on modern English cannot be understated, never mind his effect on teenage television dramas. Most of his plays were first collected in Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories & Tragedies in 1623, also known as the First Folio; which included his comedies, histories and tragedies. Now, writing some of the world‘s most well-known and respected works of literature does seem to have benefits; even if Mr. Shakespeare‘s several hundred years too late to be able to collect on them.
The First Folio was sold in 2001 for a total of 6.1 Million US Dollars, which would make it roughly 8.3 Million US Dollars in today‘s money. Not a shabby way to honor the guy who helped create our modern vernacular. Without the playwright we wouldn‘t have such lovely words as "assassination", "addiction", "fashionable" and "swagger". Honestly, what would life be like without some swagger?
32.60 USD on Amazon
The Tales of Beedle the Bard
So, Harry Potter is a thing. Kind of a big thing. Seven books, eight movies, a bunch of video games, more memorabilia than you could shake a stick at, amusement parks, action figures and even Harry Potter themed restaurants. All this combined gives the author, JK Rowling, a total net worth close to 1 Billion US Dollars. When you take all of this into account, this next book might feel paltry in comparison. There are 7 original copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard in existence, handwritten and illustrated by JK Rowling herself. I'm guessing you can all imagine how rare these would be.
The book is actually in-universe, as it is mentioned in the final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is like a sort of Brothers Grimm collection for the Wizarding World. One of the adventures, The Tale of the Three Brothers, is a critical plot-device that helps drive the story‘s eventual conclusion. One copy of JK Rowling's original tales went for 3.9 Million US Dollars in 2007 (adjusted price is 4.5 Million US Dollars) at a charity auction. The charity was definitely happy, although this kind of cash isn't really worth much when you can afford to give away money in significantly higher amounts while still having an honorary seat at the Rich Powerful Person Table.
7.49 USD on Kindle
Action Comics Issue 1
What's that? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's a spandex wearing alien that likes flying around preventing disasters in his free time. And he does't bother with a mask or a disguise, because a simple pair of glasses seem to work just fine. Superman made his first appearance way back in 1938, with the first issue of Action Comics; which is credited with having started as well as popularized the super hero genre. Super heroes have since become a massive industry, with new comics hitting the shelves in the hundreds; also inspiring video games, toys, cartoons and blockbuster motion pictures. The one comic that started it all was originally available for a measly 10 Cents, but an issue in mint condition sold for a whopping 3.2 US Dollars on EBay in 2014. A total of 200,000 copies were originally printed, but it is thought that only 50-100 issues are in existence today. So you might want to ask your grandpa if he happened to be a comic book nerd back in the day, he might be hiding some treasure in the attic.
0.99 USD digital version
It probably comes as no surprise that old classics, limited editions and fan favorites with few issues left in print would fetch a premium price. But that‘s not to say that something written in the current millennium can't become worth millions of dollars if the demand is high enough. The most rare and expensive work ever written is actually Leonardo da Vinci's notebook, the Codex Leicester, sold for 30.8 Million US Dollars (49.8 Million USD today). While non-fiction works take up the rest of the top 5 slots, who knows how things may change in the future. Meanwhile, go ahead and read some of these classics, knowing your wallet is glad you didn’t attempt to buy a rare version.