Before the development of the printing press and movable type, all books had to be translated or copied by hand and were immensely expensive and unavailable to most people. Only the most precious ideas made the transfer from verbal story to a physical medium of stone, leaf, reed or paper. These ideas were the cornerstones of civilizations. That all changed in the 1450’s when Johannes Gutenberg developed the concept of movable type and brought the written word to the common people with his crowning achievement of the printing press and with it the Gutenberg Bible produced in 1455.

Today the bible is the most printed book in the world and people of all faiths read books on any manner of subjects in every conservable language. However the most prized of these books are still those offering spiritual guidance. Spirituality is just as important today as it has been at any point in history, there are an estimated 2.1 billion Christians, 1.4 billion Muslims, and 1 billion Hindus practicing in the world. In the US alone more than 11 million people each week will meet for bible study which goes along way to explain the popularity of books like Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, and the hugely popular Left Behind novel series.

Here are the 10 most expensive religious or spiritual books ever bought on

*Images shown below are of like or similiar items but are not exact items sold.

1. Coverdale Cranmer Bible
Sold for $19,893.34

Great Bible

The Fourth Great Bible (Nov 1540) and the third with Cranmer’s preface. Large folio, old reversed calf, with blind tooling on covers, re-backed in a slightly darker reverse calf probably late 18c or early 19c with deep wine morocco label 'Holy Bible 1541'. Flat spine. The Great Bible was so called due to Thomas Cromwell requiring the clergy to "set up the Holy Bible of the largest volume in every church so that parishioners may read it". It is a large pulpit folio measuring over 14 inches tall. This was a volt farce because the Bible in English had been prohibited since 1408. Hence it has often been referred to as Cromwell's Bible. This was the first and only truly "Authorised Version" and was commonly chained to the pulpit in the churches. It remained the official bible for the Church of England for the next 30 years.

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2. Baskerville Bible, Containing the Old Testament
Sold for $8,350.00

The Holy Bible

Printed in 1763 by John Baskerville, the finest type designer of 18th century in England. He began to design his own type in 1750, and then set out to print books which were consciously fine pieces of printing and eventually went to great lengths to achieve his 'highest ambition' of printing a folio Bible, an irony in itself since he was a confirmed atheist. This copy is that ambition. The ink and the paper were also specially manufactured by him, and after printing the sheets were hot-pressed to give them smoothness and gloss. Never afraid to innovate, he made changes to the way in which metal type was made, enabling him to produce finer, more delicate lettering than any before him had achieved.

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3. The Bible - Translated according to Hebrew
Sold for $5,000.00

The New Testament & Concordance have separate title-pages, with the 1586 date on the New Testament, but the Concordance title-page is undated. The edges have been very closely cropped (trimmed down) when the book was rebound in the 1650-1750 period, with loss to some of the page numbers, and some of the text of the headings, and the printed, side margin annotations. A few page corners have chipped off, also with loss of text at leaf # [163], 284, [488], 513. Bound in full, paneled brown calf with five raised bands on the spine, a lighter brown morocco leather title label, gilt-lettered: HOLY BIBLE, and the date 1586 in gilt numbers under this.

4. Drawings for the Bible
by Marc Chagall
Sold for $3,500.00

Drawings for the Bible

Cloth. Very Good/Good. First Edition. 4to - over 9¾" - 12" tall. A scarce 1960 book that compromises 96 reproductions in black and white, and 24 lithographs by this celebrated 20th century painter, in color as well as a cover specially designed for this volume. Jacket is torn and falling apart, otherwise a rare item. Introduction by G. Bachelard

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5. 1611 Geneva Bible
Sold for $3,000.00

The Holy Bible

1611 GENEVA BIBLE - FOLIO EDITION. This is one of the most popular printings of the Geneva Bible among collectors being printed the same year as the First Edition of the King James Bible (1611) . This is the well known "Breeches" Bible for the rendering in Genesis 3: 7 "and they sewed fig tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches". It is also known as the "Pilgrims" Bible. This was the favored Bible of the Pilgrims and Puritans brought to America. The Genealogies of Sacred Scriptures and Map are inserted before Genesis.

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6. Buddhist Sutta (called 'The Basket') Palm Leaf Book
Sold for $2,000.00

An unusual palm leaf book probably made and owned by a Buddhist monastery in upper Burma. It contains 173 leaves written on both sides in characters identified as being the Mon language of Burma and Northern Thailand and contains a scripture (Sutta Basket) used by Theravada Buddhists. The leaves measure approximately 12 x 11' and are pierced with three holes; only the central hole has been used for the cord (sutra) and has 2 brass, pierced coins bearing what appear to be Chinese ideograms on one side and Burmese characters on the other, at each end of the cord. The covers are of a hard, dark wood, possibly teak, with an incised floral-type design on the front. The entire manuscript measures approximately 12 x 15'. Several leaves show minor damage (splitting). The piece is unusual in its shape, good condition of the leaves, and being written in the Mon language.

7. The Holy Bible Containing the Old & New Testament
Sold for $1,992.97

The Holy Bible with Illustrations by Gustave Dore

The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments according to the authorized version with Illustrations by Gustave Dore in 2 Vol. 1116 pages plus 348 pages. Vol. 1 Genesis to Lamentations. Family Register, Births, Marriages and Deaths in 1st Vol. 968 pages. Vol. 2 Ezekiel to Revelation. pages 969 - 1116 + apocryphal - 348 pages. Illustrations are full page b/w. This is a rebind in black leather with gilt border rear and front, five bar spine with gilt and lettering. Marbled endpapers with patterned edges to inner boards in gilt. 1866-1871.

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8. Annali dell' Islam
Sold for $1992.02

ANNALI DELL' ISLAM Herausgegeben von Leone Caetani Cloth. CDVI/6989 pp. A ten volume collection about Islam authored by Leone Caetani between 1904 and 1926 with 74 maps and plates, with 5 folding plates.

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9. Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition
Sold for $1925.00

The Talmud, The Steinsaltz Edition

Hard Cover. As New/As New. New - But Shelf Worn. 4to - over 9¾" - 12" tall. 21 volumes plus the reference guide. Record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs and history. The Talmud has two components: the Mishnah (c. 200 CE), the first written compendium of Judaism's Oral Law; and the Gemara (c. 500 CE), a discussion of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible.

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10. The Holy Bible Containing the Old & New Testament
Sold for $1900.00

1791 Isaiah Thomas

Original Leather. Very Good. First Edition. 1,310 pp. "The Editor has carried through his press two editions of the Holy Bible - this Royal Quarto and one in Folio - No cost, care or labor hath he spared to render these Editions correct, neat and elegant." (Isaiah Thomas in his Preface) Thomas, who Benjamin Franklin called the Baskerville of America, issued several variants of this, perhaps his greatest printing achievement. This Quarto copy is in the original calf with two engraved plates, one facing the title and one facing the New Testament title. On the verso of the O.T. Title, an owner's identification device has the name "Row, Christy" inked in.

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Sensational First Editions from the 1960s

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