Sometimes super-wealthy people like to spend millions on a single book. Which one cost the most? Hint: It’s about water and it's written backwards.
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Hey BrainStuff, it’s me, Cristen Conger! Sometimes I like to imagine that long after I’m dead, a wealthy philanthropist is going to buy my diary for millions of dollars and lend it to museums across the planet!
Then everyone would finally know the answer to today’s question: what is the most expensive book in the world?
Something by William Shakespeare? The Necronomicon? “Twilight: New Moon?”
Well it depends on if the book is printed, or handwritten. If we’re talking books that have had multiple copies printed then the answer is “The Bay Psalm Book,” which sold for more than $14 million dollars in November of 2013.
It was originally printed by Puritans in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640. Seeking religious freedom, these settlers wanted their own translation of the Old Testament. Today there are only eleven copies remaining, and it is considered the first book printed in America.
But if we include one-of-a-kind, handwritten texts, then the “The Bay Psalm Book” isn’t even worth half the value of the most expensive book ever sold. That title goes to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester,” which sold for $30.8 million in 1994 to a little known computer programmer by the name of Bill Gates.
Adjust that amount for inflation and today the Codex is almost $50 million!
It’s an unbound, 72-page notebook filled with DaVinci’s drawings and thoughts, mainly about how to move water. Yeah, the most expensive book in the world is basically a plumbing manual. More on that in a minute.
A lot of DaVinci’s writing was lost to history - almost half of it! So the “Codex Leicester” is mainly important because it’s a single collection of his focused ideas.
The Codex is written like many of DaVinci’s works, in something called “mirror-hand.” All of the letters are reversed and it’s written from right to left. So the only way you can read it is when it’s held up to a mirror. And… you probably need a fluency in antiquated Italian as well.
So it’s a book about water that’s written backwards. Well… to be fair that’s oversimplifying things a bit. Really, DaVinci was trying to figure out how to harness the power of moving water. He’s particularly interested in the fluid mechanics of how water moves around obstacles.
This manuscript was first purchased in 1717 by a guy named Thomas Coke, who later became the Earl of Leicester, hence the title “Codex Leicester.”
But in 1980 an art collector named Armand Hammer bought it, changing its name to the badass “Codex Hammer.”
This only lasted fourteen years though, until Gates bought it and changed it back.
Actually, Gates seems genuinely inspired by DaVinci’s example of pushing himself to find more knowledge. He’s even loaned the book to a number of museums over the years so it can be viewed and studied by the public.
Esquire. Jan1997, Vol. 127 Issue 1, p112. 3p. 1 Color Photograph.
Gill, E. (2007). LEONARDO -- THE ENGINEER WHO ALSO PAINTED. Engineers Journal, 61(6), 371.