When dedicated bibliophiles want to purchase a book, they generally turn to AbeBooks rather than Amazon Marketplace or ebay. AbeBooks was founded in Victoria, British Columbia, as the Advanced Book Exchange in 1995 by four bibliophiles. The company was acquired by Amazon in 2008. The site lists more than 140 million books from thousands of independent booksellers, many former brick-and-mortar establishments, from more than 50 countries.
Each year, AbeBooks publishes the list of the most expensive rare books sold on the site, providing a glimpse into what books have come onto the market and what bibliophiles are willing to pay for their Holy Grails. Despite how high these numbers are, they pale in comparison to the price that bibliophiles pay for exceptionally rare and valuable books that are only sold at auction or through private broker sales.
(1) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1866) by Lewis Carol, $36,000
This is one of the first thousand copies printed by Appleton, a publisher based in New York, intended for the American market.
(2) Selectarum Stirpium Americanorum Historia (1763) by Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin, $25,679
This folio size book is extremely rare — only three copies with hand-colored plates were printed. Jacquin was an important contemporary of the famous Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. The book features 264 hand-drawn watercolor illustrations of plants found in South America and the West Indies.
(3) Great Expectations (1861) by Charles Dickens, $25,000
A first edition published in three cloth volumes by Chapman and Hall. This particular set was owned by American poet Eugene Field regarded as the “poet of children.” Field wrote over a dozen books of poetry for children; he is best known for his poems “Little Boy Blue” and “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.”
(4) The Works of H. G. Wells (1924-27) by Herbert George Wells, $20,792
A set of 28 volumes bound in brown half morocco by Charles Scribner’s Sons of New York. This set is number 524 out of 1,050 sets printed. Volume one is signed by H. G. Wells.
(5) Description Géographique Historique, Chronologique, Politique et Physique de l’Empire de la Chine (A Geographic and Political History of China) (1735) by Jean-Baptiste du Halde – $19,770
Published in four volumes, featuring geography, politics, science, religion, and commerce of China. Interestingly, du Halde never set foot in China; he wrote it entirely from reports written by missionaries.