|Audubon's Birds of America|
Granted, it is visually stunning, with a wonderful history behind it -- but it isn't even particularly rare. However, a single copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America sold a couple of days ago for a mind-bending seven-point-three million pounds.
The auction was a rare chance to own one of the best preserved editions of the 19th century masterpiece, with its 435 hand-coloured illustrations, seen as a key volume on US natural history.
The buyer was an anonymous books dealer, which is a little alarming. A rare books dealer I used to know confessed to me that he established his business by buying a book of beautiful French art plates, and breaking it up to sell each plate individually. It broke his heart to do it, he said, but he needed the money to set up shop. This is a real danger with this copy of Birds of America. Each individual picture is so valuable that the book could be sold on as 435 separate works of art. Experts believe that is unlikely, however, as the volume is probably more valuable intact.
Which is fortunate, as breaking up this particular book would be sacrilege.