We're all counting our pennies pretty carefully right now. In these economically uncertain times, it's tempting to daydream. What if you had unlimited funds? A swimming pool filled with champagne? Pillows stuffed with genuine dodo down? What if you won the lottery, or an eccentric, distant and obscenely wealthy relative left you everything?
More importantly, what treasures would you add to your bookshelf? If you answered "Ptolemy's first Atlas printed in Germany, from 10 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue," (Cosmographia, pictured left), you'd be in for a bargain, at a cool $1,800,000.
If you're the Queen, the Donald, or otherwise rolling in riches, these valuable volumes could be yours.
Fancy some Hemingway to add to your collection? Well, if it's a first edition, first printing of The Sun Also Rises you're after, this copy inscribed by Hemingway himself, will run you $175,000. What else could you do with $175,000? You could buy five diamond solitaire rings, set in platinum, from Tiffany & Co. and outshine the sun itself, with enough money left over to purchase a brand new family sedan. But what would you read?
If you're an ornithologist or a regular old birdwatcher, a complete set of the Natural History Works of John Gould in 51 Volumes should loosen your purse strings. Containing everything you ever wanted to know about the regional birds, as well as 3,267 hand-colored lithographs, this gorgeous, leatherbound set costs a paltry $3,9,000,000. You could spend the same on 80% of a brand new, basic model Lear Jet (or if you're on a budget, buy a used Lear jet for three million, and spend the remaining on flying round trip from New York to London 54 times - first class). Birds never had it so good.
And what do you get for the bibliphile who has everything? Why, the book before the book, of course. This large clay cylinder details King Nebuchadnezzar II's Royal Proclamation of his efforts to perfectly rebuild the Temple of E-Barra/E-Ulla in ancient Babylon. And not to worry - if you're not fluent in cuneiform pictographs, it comes with documentation and a full translation. Add some papyrus, and you could have yourself an ancient book club. It can be yours for $1,750,000. If you already have a cuneiform clay cylinder from King Nebuchadnezzar II, for the same money, you could buy Barack Obama's suburban Chicago home, and still have $100,000 left to play with, and live like a king.
Bound in original full calf leather, with ornate copper hinges, corners and emblems, this first edition (1611) printing of the King James Great Bible (called the He Bible because of the misprinting in Ruth 3:15 "and he went into the city" rather than "she") will set you back as much as a month long trip for you and 20 friends to Israel - or anywhere, really.
Here's another gem for the bird enthusiast. This first edition is one of only 175 printed. In reference to the art throughout, the description states: "[t]he colouring was done with opaque watercolours with touches of egg-white for parts of the feather requiring sheen" All that for only $325,000.00. Think that's for the birds? You could instead opt for a decent two-person helicopter, and take flight yourself.
Looking to add mystery, intrigue and suspense to your life - and your bookshelf? Originally published in novel form in 1930, The Maltese Falcon is a classic tale of corruption, greed, and the consequences of each -but Sam Spade is on the case. This gorgeous copy is a first edition, first printing, still complete with dustjacket after 78 years. A mere $125,000 and it's yours. Rather get off the sidelines and into the game? For the same money, you could procure enough GPS tracking systems, listening devices, disguises, walkie-talkies, grappling hooks, black outfits and ski masks to let you start your own counter-espionage outfit, with enough left over to pay your bail/hospital bills as needed (probably).
If your collection includes books on genetics and evolution, this first edition, first issue from the Father of Evolution is a must have. It was published in 1859, and in a true testament to survival of the fittest, is in handsome condition 149 years later. It's one of only 1250 copies issued. For only $179,000 and change, it would be a fantastic addition to any library. However, if you want to study the species a little more intently, you could put your cash toward 140 life-sized, hand-finished, fully flexible model human skeletons.
The second of Jane Austen's full-length novels, Pride and Prejudice is now the author's best known and best loved work. Detailing the characters of independent and witty Elizabeth Bennet and her suitor Fitzwilliam Darcy, the story follows the equally stubborn and headstrong couple's reluctant descent into love, digging in their heels all the way. This fantastic example of a 1st edition in three volumes is bound in contemporary half russia, with marbled boards and engraved armorial bookplates. If no amount of money could convince you to marry - you could take the cost of this book and take a solitary trip jet-setting around the globe, instead.
This atlas includes the first printed maps of any English or Welsh county, by the father of English cartography, and especially noteworthy for its remarkably vivid original color. Its publication date is an astonishing 1574. Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I, each map bears the Royal Arms as a symbol of her supervision and endorsement. While this volume may sound the epitome of pricelessness, it does have a price - $750,000.00. For the same, you could fly first class to Wales, purchase a 5 bedroom, Victoria townhouse within walking distance of Pontypridd, and a 2008 Ferrari 599, to explore England and Wales yourself, in style.
And of course, what list of ridiculously expensive and collectible books would be complete without the boy wizard? Given that the publication date is almost in the 21st century (1997), while the pricetag of $30,517.78 may seem like a paltry sum in terms of this compilation, it's still an astronomical figure for a children's book published only 12 years ago. For those who live under a rock, JK Rowling's Harry Potter series tells the story of an 11-year-old boy, unhappy and unloved, whose world changes drastically when he learns he comes from a family of wizards and witches, and he is whisked off to Hogwarts, a boarding school for magically gifted children. This first edition, first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone can be yours, or you could buy 300 crystal balls retail, and practice.