For AbeBooks, $191,000 online sale is one for the books

AbeBooks has hit a new high with a book of birds.

The online marketplace for new, used and rare books, launched in Victoria in 1995 and sold to Amazon in 2008, last month sold a rare Italian ornithology book for $191,000, obliterating the previous record of $65,000.

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“We’re thrilled to have sold such a valuable book for one of our booksellers,” said Richard Davies, AbeBooks’ merchandising manager. “We have been expecting a sale of this magnitude for some time. A small number of people are comfortable spending large amounts of money online.”

Davies said other items are available at AbeBooks in that price range, including an inscribed 1926 first edition of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway and a second folio edition of Comedies, Histories and Tragedies by William Shakespeare from 1632.

By comparison, $191,000 will buy a new 2015 Ferrari California or a diamond ring featuring a six-carat ruby.

The book was published in five volumes in 1795, and the long Italian title — Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo e adornata di figure intagliate in rame e miniate al naturale: Ornithologia methodice digesta atque iconibus aeneis ad vivum illuminatis — can be translated and shortened to A Natural History of Birds.

The book was commissioned by Maria Luisa, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and took 10 years to complete. Only 10 complete copies of the book have been offered at auction in the past 40 years.

The book’s artwork — it contains 600 images of birds — was drawn and etched by Violante Vanni and Lorenzo Lorenzi. The text was penned by Saverio Manetti, an Italian doctor, ornithologist and director of the botanical garden in Florence.

Before this sale, the most expensive book sold on AbeBooks was a first edition of The Hobbit and a 1644 copy of John Milton’s Areopagitica. They each sold for $65,000.

Abebook's highest sales

  • A Natural History of Birds, by Vanni, Lorenzi and Manetti (1765) — $191,000
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937) — $65,000
  • Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing to the Parliament of England, by John Milton (1644) — $65,000
  • Der Naturforscher, by J.E.I. Walsh & J.D. Schreber (13 volumes published between 1774 and 1804) — $60,321
  • Utopia De optimo reip. statu, deque nova insula, by Sir Thomas More (1518) — $60,000
  • Poems with elegies on the author’s death, by John Donne (1633) — $60,000

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