Birds of America: The World’s Most Expensive Book Sells for $10M at Auction

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An employee poses with a page from John James Audubon's book 'Birds of America'

Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

How about this for a nice nest egg: John James Audubon’s Birds of America netted over $10 million at auction Tuesday night, making it the world’s most expensive published book.

The 19th century masterpiece, replete with — count ’em — 435 hand-colored illustrations, has long been considered a crucial document about U.S. natural history. The winning bid of $10,270,000 went to an anonymous collector bidding by telephone, auction house Sotheby’s said. In fact, as every one of the pictures is deemed so valuable there were fears the volume could be broken up and sold as separate works of art. But experts think that’s unlikely as it’s arguably worth more intact.

(See the top 10 most expensive auction items.)

“No one can rival John James Audubon for frontier glamour,”Heather O’Donnell, a specialist with Bauman Rare Books in New York said. “The story of his lonely journey through the American wilderness and his struggle to record what he saw there gives the Birds a resonance that no other book can match.”

Audubon was considered part naturalist and part artist, possessing an unparalleled knack in observing, cataloging and painting birds. And the crazy price tag, according to those experts, has been paid not only because of the book’s beauty but due to its scientific value.

(See TIME’s 100 best books.)

But here’s something else to consider: Birds of America can be considered cheap next to a Gutenberg Bible. Pom Harrington, owner of the Peter Harrington rare book firm in London, reckons that a complete Gutenberg Bible in good condition could net between $30-50 million, but none has been sold in more than 30 years.

Armed with knowledge like that, don’t be surprised if many people start turning to religion in the hope they can uncover the Good Book on their bookshelves. Amen to that. (Via AP)