AbeBooks' Most Expensive Sales in 2015

The year began with a Natural History of Birds, a famous Italian ornithology book from 1765, becoming AbeBooks' most expensive sale ever at $191,000. The previous most expensive items to sell through our marketplace were a 1937 first edition of The Hobbit and a 1644 copy of Areopagitica, John Milton's defense of press freedom, which sold for $65,000 each in 2003.

1. Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo e adornata di figure intagliate in rame e miniate al naturale. Ornithologia methodice digesta atque iconibus aeneis ad vivum illuminatis
by Saverio Manetti - $191,000

The book's title translates as a 'Natural History of Birds Treated Systematically and Adorned with Copperplate Engraving Illustrations, in Miniature and Life-Size.' Published in Florence in five volumes in 1765, it contains 600 beautiful hand-colored engraved plates of birds. Commissioned by Maria Luisa, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, it took 10 years to complete. This copy's fine condition enhanced its value along with the fact that it is a scarce book - only 10 complete copies have been offered at auction in the past 40 years.

A selection of images from A Natural History of Birds

2. Pangeometria
by Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevskii - $34,245

Published in 1856 in Russian, this is an important book in the development of geometry.

3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl - $25,000

A first edition from 1964 that had been signed and inscribed by the author with the words "For Jane and Alex with much love Roald Dahl October 1964." The bookseller was Raptis Rare Books located in Brattleboro, Vermont. Published in September 1964 by Knopf, just 10,000 copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were published and they sold out within a few weeks. This copy is by far the most expensive Roald Dahl book to sell via AbeBooks and probably the most expensive Dahl book to ever be sold.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

4. Sertum Orchidaceum: A Wreath of the Most Beautiful Orchidaceous Flowers
by John Lindley - $24,643

A first edition of one of the rarest and most attractive of all orchid books. It contains 49 hand-colored lithographed plates. Lindley (1799-1865) was a botanist, horticulturalist, and pioneering orchidologist.

5. Plantes de la France
by Jaume Saint-Hilaire - $22,549

One of the great botanical works. A first edition in 10 volumes that was published (at Saint-Hilaire's own expense) in 94 installments and delivered to readers via subscription between 1819 and 1822. A thousand illustrations engraved on copper and printed in color.

6. The Grounde of Artes
by Robert Record - $22,083

Dedicated to explaining arithmetic, this is one of the first commercial textbooks. First published in 1543, this edition of Grounde of Artes was printed in 1579. Just like modern textbooks, it was edited again and again, and there had been at least 45 new editions by 1699. This edition contains the edits of John Dee.

7. Scenes of Clerical Life
by George Eliot - $20,000

Published in two volumes, one of only 1,050 copies of the first edition printed in January 1858. Scenes of Clerical Life was Eliot's brilliant debut work of fiction. This is one of eight presentation copies gifted by the author upon publication - the recipients included Dickens (who guessed Eliot was female), Ruskin and Tennyson.

8. Lord of the Rings trilogy
by J.R.R. Tolkien - $19,492

Three volumes comprising The Fellowship of the Ring (signed by the author), The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, published in 1954, 1954, and 1955 respectively. All first editions.

Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (not the item sold)

9. The Holy Bible
$18,928

Published by Mark Baskett in London in 1767, bound in two volumes in late 18th century red morocco. Mark Baskett was grandson of John Baskett (who died in 1742) who had acquired the patent for the office of king's printer which covered the printing of bibles.

10. The Astronauts: The Story of Project Mercury, America's Man-in-Space Program
by Martin Caidin - $18,500

Project Mercury was America's first mission to put men into space. First edition published in 1960 and signed by all seven of the project's astronauts - Scott Carpenter, Leroy Cooper, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, John Glenn, Wally Schirra, and Gus Grissom. The project ran from 1958 and culminated in 1962 when Glenn made three orbits of the Earth.

The Astronauts: The Story of Project Mercury, America's Man-in-Space Program

11. Principes Mathematiques de la Philosophie Naturelle
$18,000

Two volumes. A first edition from 1759 of the only French translation of Isaac Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica by the Marquise du Chatelet, the paramour of Voltaire. Newton's seminal text on mechanics was published in 1687.

12. De Mundi Systemate Liber
by Isaac Newton - $16,629

Published in 1728, this is book 3 in Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica containing a portrait of Newton by John Simon.

13. Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae
$15,062

Published in 20 volumes in the 1980s, 'LIMC' is an encyclopedia cataloguing representations of mythology in the plastic arts (that's sculpture and ceramics) of classical antiquity.

14=. Samuel Pepys' Diary
$15,000

Published in 1899 by London's CB Hall, this is one of only 53 sets, printed for private subscription. Pepys kept his diary 1660 until 1669 but it wasn't published until the 19th century when it became one of the key sources of information on the English Restoration period.

Samuel Pepys' Diary (not item sold)

14=. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K. Dick - $15,000

1968 first edition signed and inscribed by Dick. The book served as the basis for the Blade Runner movie. The plot is set in a post-apocalyptic world where a bounty hunter is tasked with destroying six escaped androids.

16. The Holy Bible
$13,547

Published in 1613 by Robert Barker.

17. Sumo
by Helmut Newton - $12,833

Newton's aptly named photography book was published in 1999. It weighs more than 77 pounds (35 kilos), is 19.7 inches x 27.6 inches in size and comes with its own folding metal stand. Published by Taschen, the book offers 450 photographs in color and black-and-white of scantily-clad fashion models. The copy purchased was one of the 10,000 signed and numbered copies that sold out immediately after publication and have since increased in value on the rare book market.

Sumo by Helmut Newton

18. Primera Parte del Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha
by Cervantes - $12,749

Part one of Cervantes' famous tale, published in 1617 in Brussels by Huberto Antonio.

19. As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner - $12,500

A first edition from 1930 with a laid-in signature. Complete with its dust jacket. Faulkner's fifth novel, a stream of consciousness, written during the night while he worked at a power plant.

20. Comedies and Tragedies
by Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher - $12,043

Published in 1647, this is one of the great collections of Elizabethan drama from the playwriting team of Beaumont and Fletcher. It contains more than 30 plays.

More Fascinating Sales on AbeBooks in 2015

Dr Zhivago
by Boris Pasternak - $11,000

The original, blue cloth Russian-language copy of Pasternak's novel set during the Russian Revolution. The true first edition, one of 1,160 copies printed as part of a covert CIA publishing and propaganda program for distributing banned material to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

First edition copy of Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Moby Dick
by Herman Melville - $10,000

One of the most beautiful books of the 20th century, the 1930 Lakeside Press edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent.

The Bridge, A Poem by Hart Crane with photographs
by Walker Evans - $10,000

Published in 1930 by Black Sun Press. The Bridge marked the debut of Evans' photographs as book illustrations. The poem was inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Colour of Magic
by Terry Pratchett - $9,633

A 1983 first edition of the first book in the Discworld series that had a print run of just 506 copies, most of which disappeared into the library system. Sadly, Pratchett died in March 2015.

A Mind to Murder
by P.D. James - $9,000

A chisel through the heart! A 1963 Faber and Faber first edition of James' second book in her Adam Dalgliesh series.

A Mind to Murder by P.D. James

The Big Sleep
by Raymond Chandler - $7,500

A 1939 first edition. This novel has twice been adapted into a movie - there was a 1946 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and a 1978 film with Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles.

The Google Book
by V.C. Vickers - $5,000

A 1913 first edition of an obscure illustrated children's book written by a banker. The Google is a magical creature whose garden is filled with fantastical birds.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking
by Julia Child - $4,995

Volumes one and two from 1976. Volume two signed and inscribed by Julia and signed by Paul Child; volume one signed and inscribed by Julia Child.

Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee - $4,986

A signed leather-bound limited edition of Lee's comeback novel, one of only 100 copies printed.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Titanic and Other Ships
by Commander C.H. Lightoller - $4,604

A signed copy from 1935. Charles Lightoller was the second mate on the Titanic and the most senior officer to survive. He supervised the loading of the lifeboats. Titanic and Other Ships is his autobiography.

The Glory Game: Year in the Life of Tottenham Hotspur
by Hunter Davies - $3,549

A 1972 first edition of one of the first books to portray an English soccer team from the inside after Davies received special access.

The Costume of Yorkshire
by George Walker - $3,500

Published in 1814. Walker was an artist who concentrated mainly on rural scenes until he was asked to illustrate a book about clothing in Yorkshire. His drawings are extremely honest - his picture of a collier portrays absolute poverty.

A two-page letter from Princess Diana to her Driver
$3,412

Written a month before Diana's death in 1997, this letter thanks her driver Peter Burrows. Diana writes "I know that you are delivering a parcel today, alas not an American (!)" She goes on to thank Burrows for a recent birthday card.

We Seven
$3,250

Another book about America's program to put men into space. A 1962 copy signed by six of the seven Project Mercury astronauts - Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra.

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams - $2,480

A signed 1979 first edition of one of the funniest books ever written.

Career of Evil
by Robert Galbraith - $1,385

Signed by JK Rowling as Robert Galbraith, purchased less than week after the release of this crime novel.

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

What's the most expensive book you bought in 2015?