Most Expensive Sales of 2019

AbeBooks' most expensive sales of the year list features legends of literature, politics, photography, and cinema. The sale of a deluxe set of signed Harry Potter novels was a landmark event for our marketplace, becoming AbeBooks' most expensive J.K. Rowling sale ever. The previous record was a true first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which sold for $37,000 in August 2005. Interest in the boy who lived never wanes.

The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, $40,000

Image of The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln

Published in 1905, this is the Presidential Edition, limited to 50 copies. There are 12 volumes, bound in 23. It features engraved portraits, views and maps, photogravures, and facsimile letters. The frontispiece in each volume is an original watercolor of a log cabin.


Harry Potter Series, Deluxe Set by J.K. Rowling, $38,560

Image of the deluxe set of the Harry Potter series, signed by JK Rowling

Published by Bloomsbury, all seven volumes in deluxe bindings. All signed by J.K. Rowling. The Chamber of Secrets, and The Prisoner of Azkaban are signed by artist Cliff Wright. This is the most expensive Harry Potter sale in the history of AbeBooks.


The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett $25,000

Image of the book The Maltese Falcon

The 1930 first edition published by Knopf in its all-important original dust jacket, which is unrestored. It's difficult to find this first edition in its first issue dust wrapper. This detective story was originally serialized in the Black Mask pulp magazine, starting in September 1929. Much parodied, Sam Spade's story is told completely in the third person.


The Writings of Mark Twain, $25,000

Image of the book The Writings of Mark Twain

The Autograph Edition complete in 25 volumes. Published from 1899 to 1907 by the American Publishing Company. This is from a limited edition of 512 copies, with 500 being numbered, and 12 lettered copies reserved for the author. This set is letter "B." Lettered copies are rare. Volume I is signed "S. L. Clemens". A short manuscript signed letter is included.


The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, $19,752

Image of The Canterbury Tales

This is a facsimile of the New Ellesmere Chaucer found in the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. The original is an early 15th century illuminated manuscript of The Canterbury Tales. It's an incredibly beautiful edition and has immense significance in the rare book world. The facsimile is part of a 1995 deluxe edition of 50 produced by the Yushodo Company and the Huntington Library Press. As every high school English student knows, The Canterbury Tales is a collection of 24 stories written in Middle English in the 14th century.


Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, $19,600

Image of Casino Royale

An unmarked 1953 Jonathan Cape first edition of Fleming's first 007 outing. James Bond takes on Le Chiffre, a member of the Russian secret service, at a French casino. Eleven novels and two short story collections followed. The most expensive Casino Royale to ever sell on AbeBooks was a signed first edition that went for $46,463.


Lord of the Rings set by J.R.R. Tolkien, $19,000

Image of the Lord of the Rings set

A set of unrestored first edition, first printings published by George Allen and Unwin between 1954 and 1955. All three volumes are in near fine condition. Epic high fantasy, the three volumes are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.


Greta Garbo autograph letter, $18,000

A letter from the famed Hollywood actress to fellow actress, theater director and friend, Mimi Pollak. Pollak attended the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm, Sweden with Garbo from 1922 to 1924. Garbo moved to the US in 1925.

"I am so boundlessly apathetic about everything. Only tired, tired and list less. I am afraid for myself. Soon I really won't have the right to live the way I am mishandling my life. My last film is being shown now and it was poor and I was terrible. You can commiserate when you see it. You asked about Gilbert. Yes, there has been a lot in the newspapers but I can't do what the newspapers expect. I am not suited to be married, I am too uneven in my nature and to nervous. He is very sweet and very angry because I don't want to marry. I have been ugly toward him. I have without knowing what I want promised many things which now make him unhappy because I can't go through with them. He has a very pleasant home with everything you might want - tennis, swimming pool, servants, cars, everything to make life easier. But I still wander home to my ugly old hotel room. Why?" -- Greta Garbo


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, $17,000

Image of the book To Kill a Mockingbird

A signed 1960 first edition of Harper's remarkable debut novel. The most expensive copy of this book to sell on AbeBooks went for $25,000 in 2011.


Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers by Denis Diderot & Jean le Rond d'Alembert, $16,868

The title roughly translates as Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts but the book is usually just known as Encyclopédie. Published between 1751 and 1772 in 17 volumes, it had a huge influence on Europe.


The Novels and Tales of Henry James, $15,922

26 volumes, bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe in red half morocco. Published from 1907 to 1917. James is best known for The Turn of the Screw, The Wings of a Dove and The Portrait of a Lady. Intrigued by the dynamics of society, James' work has influenced numerous writers.


Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail by Ansel Adams, $15,000

A 1938 first edition signed by Adams. Limited to 500 copies, this being "K" of the 26 rare "lettered" copies that were given away by the photographer. The first major monograph of Adams' work with 50 tipped-in illustrations from photographs by Adams printed in halftone. This ground-breaking photobook was commissioned by Walter Starr to commemorate his son who was killed during a climbing expedition in the American High Sierra. The book was referenced during the US congressional debate over the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park.


History of the Royal Residences of Windsor Castle, St. James's Palace, Carlton House, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, Buckingham House, and Frogmore by W.H. Pyne, $15,000

Published in three volumes in 1819, this stunning pictorial book features 100 engravings. It has a full English crimson straight-grained morocco binding. Numerous illustrators contributed artwork. The interior decorations of Windsor Castle are particularly important as they show the building before major alterations took place.