21 Valuable Books That Are Both Rare and Expensive
The value of the world’s most valuable books appears to be increasing over time. They appear to be like fine wine that improves with age. Birds of America by John James Audubon has sold multiple copies at record prices, with the greatest exceeding $11 million, and there are several additional volumes with even higher price tags.
It’s intriguing to observe how antique books and first editions are valued; it’s similar to the art world in that it’s not always obvious why something carries a certain worth. To that purpose, I’ve gathered some of the more expensive examples for you to peruse. The following examples are in random order and cover first editions, which were signed the authors and even very exclusive special editions, redesigned, repackaged and re-printed.
$125 – $200
Beneath the Surface (2008) by Simon Strantzas
Tales of dark gods and monsters of the flesh, emissaries from a world beneath our own, a world from where nightmares are born. Here, a man searches for truth in a universe that has forsaken him and pays the price for that knowledge, and a woman with out hope travels northward to find the place where her life fell to pieces and discovers of what she truly is made.
They say no man is an island, no matter how much he wishes to be, but what then is that ship that sails toward him, and what pray tell is that lashed to its bow. These are tales that infect our dreams, tales of things that live beyond our understanding and watch us with malignant indifference. They are tales of grief, of loneliness, of guilt.
$70 – $400
Women and Men (1987) by Joseph McElroy
Beginning in childbirth and entered like a multiple dwelling in motion, Women and Men embraces and anatomizes the 1970s in New York from experiments in the chaotic relations between the sexes to the flux of the city itself.
Yet through an intricate overlay of scenes, voices, fact, and myth, this expanding fiction finds its way also across continents and into earlier and future times and indeed the Earth, to reveal connections between the most disparate lives and systems of feeling and power. At its breathing heart, it plots the fugue like and field like densities of late-twentieth-century life.
$75 – $100
Bottom’s Dream (1970) by Arno Schmidt
I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was,’ says Bottom. ‘I have had a dream, and I wrote a Big Book about it,’ Arno Schmidt might have said. Schmidt’s rare vision is a journey into many literary worlds. First and foremost it is about Edgar Allan Poe, or perhaps it is language itself that plays that lead role; and it is certainly about sex in its many Freudian disguises, but about love as well, whether fragile and unfulfilled or crude and wedded.
As befits a dream upon a heath populated by elemental spirits, the shapes and figures are protean, its protagonists suddenly transformed into trees, horses, and demigods. In a single day, from one midsummer dawn to a fiery second, Dan and Franzisca, Wilma and Paul explore the labyrinths of literary creation and of their own dreams and desires.
The Silmarillion (Leatherbound Collector’s Edition) (1977) by J. R. R. Tolkien
THE SILMARILLION is the core of J.R.R. Tolkien’s imaginative writing, a work whose origins stretch back to a time long before THE HOBBIT. Published last and posthumously, this great collection of tales and legends clearly sets the stage for all his other writing.
The story of the creation of the world and of the the First Age, this is the ancient drama to which the characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS look back and in whose events some of them, such as Elrond and Galadriel, took part. The three Silmarils were jewels created by Feanor, most gifted of the Elves. Within them was imprisoned the Light of the Two Trees of Valinor before the Trees themselves were destroyed by Morgoth, the first Dark Lord.
The Cipher (1991) by Kathe Koja
Story of down-and-out Nicholas and his friend Nakota one day discover a black hole in the floor of an abandoned storage room in his apartment building, which they quickly christen the ‘Funhole.’ The two set out to see what happens when they drop various items into the hole, whetting its appetite with insects, a mouse and a human hand, which all come back violently rearranged. Next, they lower a camcorder into the hole to record the action within. The videotape they retrieve is spellbinding, but there’s a catch: what Nicholas sees is different from everyone else’s vision.
The Tenant (Hardcover) (1964) by Ronald Topor
The Tenant chronicles a harrowing descent into madness as Mr. Trelkovsky is subsumed into Simone Choule, a suicide victim whose presence still saturates Mr. Trelkovsky’s new apartment. The novel probes the depths of guilt and obsession. With four short stories and a selection of Roland Topor’s artwork. Each copy is signed by Thomas Ligotti.
Moby Dick (Collector’s Edition by The Folio Society, featuring Rockwell Kent’s original illustrations and bound in rich cloth) (2019) by Herman Melville
A literary classic that wasn’t recognized for its merits until decades after its publication, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick tells the tale of a whaling ship and its crew, who are carried progressively further out to sea by the fiery Captain Ahab. Obsessed with killing the massive whale, which had previously bitten off Ahab’s leg, the seasoned seafarer steers his ship to confront the creature, while the rest of the shipmates, including the young narrator, Ishmael, and the harpoon expert, Queequeg, must contend with their increasingly dire journey.
$450 – $1500
East of Eden (First Edition, Signed) (1952) by John Steinbeck
Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families-the Trasks and the Hamiltons-whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. The masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. Adapted for the 1955 film directed by Elia Kazan introducing James Dean, and read by thousands as the book that brought Oprah’s Book Club back, East of Eden has remained vitally present in American culture for over half a century.
City of Darkness: Life In Kowloon Walled City (1999) by Greg Girard
A photographic record of Kowloon Walled City – a city within a city, now demolished and its 35,000 inhabitants rehoused. Containing interviews and commentary, the book tells the city’s history, and how the self-sufficient community lived and worked in so little space in such apparent harmony.
How to Wrap Five Eggs: Traditional Japanese Packaging (1975) by Hideyuki Oka
Traditional Japanese packaging is an art form that applies sophisticated design and natural aesthetics to simple objects. In this elegant presentation of the baskets, boxes, wrappers, and containers that were used in ordinary, day-to-day life, we are offered a stunning example of a time before mass production. Largely constructed of bamboo, rice straw, hemp twine, paper, and leaves, all of the objects shown here are made from natural materials.
Through 221 black-and-white photographs of authentic examples of traditional Japanese packaging-with commentary on the origins, materials, and use of each piece-the items here offer a look into a lost art, while also reminding us of the connection to nature and the human imprint of handwork that was once so alive and vibrant in our everyday lives. This classic book was originally published under the title How to Wrap Five More Eggs in 1975.
Trixie Belden books (Paperback) (1948-1986) by Julie Campbell
Spunky tomboy Trixie Belden can’t stay out of trouble, or stay away from mysteries! And now Trixie’s first three adventures are available in a boxed set of the retro books with Julie Campbell’s text from the 1940s editions and Mary Stevens’s original line drawings. After all, who can resist tomboy Trixie; her rich best friend, Honey; and their adventures with a runaway kid in a miser’s mansion, a stolen red trailer, and a lost diamond in an rickety old gatehouse?
$300 – $2000
Untidy Gnome (1935) by Stella Gibbons
Gibbons sets her story in Norway circa the mid-1700s, young Gerda, the daughter of Peter the woodcutter, is kidnapped by Elves and held hostage, only to be returned if Peter vows to stop cutting down the trees which form the elves’ homes. This abduction is complicated by the involvement of the Faeries, whose young Princess Fand is outraged by the kidnapping and determines to use the Faery army to rescue Gerda.
Italian Villas and Their Gardens (1904) by Edith Wharton, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish
A comprehensive look at the history and character of Italian garden architecture and ornamentation, the book explores more than seventy-five villas, capturing what Wharton calls their ‘garden-magic’ and illuminating the intimate relationship between the house, its formal gardens, and the surrounding countryside.This beautiful hardcover facsimile is carefully reproduced from the first edition published in 1904 and features all of the original plates, including twenty-six illustrations by Maxfield Parrish, as well as décollage edges.
The Complete Miss Marple Collection (1985) by Agatha Christie & Kate Mosse
Miss Marple is a fictional character in Agatha Christie’s crime novels and short stories. Jane Marple lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and acts as an amateur consulting detective. Often characterized as an elderly spinster, she is one of Christie’s best-known characters and has been portrayed numerous times on screen. Christie also used material from her fictional creation, spinster Caroline Sheppard, who appeared in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. When Michael Morton adapted the novel for the stage, he replaced the character of Caroline with a young girl. This change saddened Christie and she determined to give old maids a voice: Miss Marple was born.
Up to $190,000
Hobbit 1st Edition, Signed (1937) by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Hobbit is set within Tolkien’s fictional universe and follows the quest of home-loving Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit, to win a share of the treasure guarded by Smaug the dragon. Bilbo’s journey takes him from light-hearted, rural surroundings into more sinister territory. The story is told in the form of an episodic quest, and most chapters introduce a specific creature or type of creature of Tolkien’s geography. The story reaches its climax in the Battle of Five Armies, where many of the characters and creatures from earlier chapters re-emerge to engage in conflict. The work has never been out of print. Its ongoing legacy encompasses many adaptations for stage, screen, radio, board games, and video games. Several of these adaptations have received critical recognition on their own merits.
The Original Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tales (First Edition) (1812) by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
Grimms’ Fairy Tales, originally known as the Children’s and Household Tales is a German collection of fairy tales by the Grimm brothers or ‘Brothers Grimm’, Jacob and Wilhelm, first published on 20 December 1812. The first edition contained 86 stories, and by the seventh edition in 1857, had 210 unique fairy tales.
A Farewell to Arms (First Edition) (1929) by Ernest Hemingway
Set during the Italian campaign of World War I. It is a first-person account of an American, Frederic Henry, serving as a lieutenant in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The title is taken from a poem by the 16th-century English dramatist George Peele. The novel, set against the backdrop of World War I, describes a love affair between the expatriate Henry and an English nurse, Catherine Barkley. Its publication ensured Hemingway’s place as a modern American writer of considerable stature. The book became his first best-seller, and has been called ‘the premier American war novel from that debacle World War I.
$200 – $1,500
Life of Pi (First Edition, Signed) (2001) by Yann Martel
The protagonist is Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel, an Indian Tamil boy from Pondicherry who explores issues of spirituality and metaphysics from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger which raises questions about the nature of reality and how it is perceived and told. He is part of a Hindi speaking family. The novel has sold more than ten million copies worldwide. It was rejected by at least five London publishing houses before being accepted by Knopf Canada, which published it in September 2001. The UK edition won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction the following year. It was also chosen for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads 2003, where it was championed by author Nancy Lee.
Trust No Fox on his Green Heath and No Jew on his Oath (1936) by Elvira Bauer
A children’s book written and published in 1936 during the Third Reich in Germany. The children’s book was written by Elvira Bauer, a kindergarten teacher and Nazi supporter, and was illustrated by Philipp Rupprecht, a publisher to the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer. The book was the first of three children’s books to be published by Julius Streicher, who was later executed for war crimes. The book teaches children, according to the Nazi Party in Germany, what a Jew is and what they look like.
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