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'World's most expensive book' has collectors chirping

An rare intact copy of 'The Birds of America' by John James Audubon has come up for auction. 

By Daisy Alioto / January 9, 2012

Copies of ‘The Birds of America’ have historically been dismantled because the aqua-tinted plates themselves are so valuable.


A first edition of John James Audubon’s book 'The Birds of America' certainly costs more than the average nest egg. The last time another copy of this rare volume was sold in 2010, bids soared to $11.5 million – making it the world’s most expensive book.

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"The Birds of America" was published in the early 1800s as a serial. A complete edition contains 435 color illustrations.

Copies of ‘The Birds of America’ have historically been dismantled because the aqua-tinted plates themselves are so valuable. Now, another full copy has come up for auction through Christie's, and has the potential to usurp the “world’s most expensive book” roost.

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The full 3'-by-2' tome can draw a creak from even the sturdiest of coffee tables – not that any rare book collector would be so bold as to leave it lying around, when there are only 120 copies of the book in existence.
The size of the book was dictated by Audubon who insisted on dimensions that would enable life-size renderings of the hundreds of birds he depicted. As rare book dealer Rick Gekoski told the Guardian, “…the flamingo and trumpeter swan tilt their necks graciously inward and arrange themselves with some care.”
The book will be auctioned by Christie's in New York on Jan. 20.

Daisy Alioto is a Monitor contributor.

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