Discover the world of antique Bibles. From their ornate beauty to history, learn why these collectibles can fetch such high prices.
Updated Feb 23, 2023
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Antique Bibles are an unlikely-yet-sought-after collectible. Of the over 750 million printed books were sold in 2020, 20 million of those were Bibles. Religious books are a huge market, raking in over $700 million in 2021, according to Statista.
Vintage scripture with strong provenance—like Elvis Presley’s 1977 Bible, which fetched $94,000 in a 2012 auction—can be worth a fortune.
Antique Bibles are popular investments because they’re rare and possess sentimental and historical value. They’re great collectibles to invest in because they’re the intersection of rare antiques and sought-after literature.
Let’s look at some of the most expensive antique Bibles and why they reach such heavenly prices.
Antique Bibles have gained immense value due to their rarity and history. Over 6 billion copies of the Bible have been printed since 1815, with fewer than 100 antique editions remaining.
Collectors usually pursue bibles with particular provenance, like family Bibles of celebrities and historical figures or bibles containing particular family trees, maps, or rare notes.
Most valuable antique Bibles are one-of-a-kind or first edition holy books made between the invention of the printing press in 15th century to the early 19th century. These old Bibles usually stand out for their ornate beauty, prestigious craftsmanship, and fine materials.
For example, illustrations by renowned artists like Marc Chagall and Gustave Doré adorned rare editions with inventive forms of embroidery and photography. The year of printing may also be of particular interest—as is the case with a 1776 printing of the Saur Bible.
The value of these collectibles varies greatly depending on their edition and condition. For instance, two copies of the Holy Bible, Book of Common Prayer, Psalms of David, and the Week’s preparation for the Lord’s Supper autographed by Nicholas Robinson fetched $9,911.
The Codex Sassoon, Gutenberg Bible, Bay Psalm Book, St. Cuthbert Gospel, Gospel of Henry Lion, Wycliffite New Testament Manuscript, and 1616 King James Bible are some of the most valuable ancient Bibles in the world.
These rare artifacts provide insight into theological history and are highly sought-after investments.
The Codex Sassoon dates back to the late ninth or early tenth century and is significant to all Abrahamic faiths. Valued at an estimated $50 million, the Codex Sassoon could be the most expensive Bible ever sold when it goes up for auction in May 2023. Its rarity and significance as one of the most complete antique Hebrew Bibles make it particularly valuable.
The Codex Sassoon Hebrew Bible is worth an estimated $50 million.
The Codex Sassoon cost £350 in 1929 and is worth up to $50 million today—a 14,000% rise in value. Apart from its religious significance, it holds tremendous investment potential. Its inscriptions provide insights into its longevity, making it a highly attractive asset for collectors.
Antique Bibles like the 15th century Gutenberg Bible hold tremendous value for collectors. With fewer than 50 copies, the Gutenberg Bible is one of the rarest books in the world.
In 1978, a complete copy sold for $2.2 million, and just nine years later, a lone volume from the set sold for $5.4 million—more than double the initial price.
The Gutenberg Bible originally fetched $5.4 million and is now worth $35 million.
Recent estimates suggest a complete Gutenberg Bible could fetch up to $35 million at auction. Thus, this ancient artifact’s value has soared over time, making it an excellent investment for bibliophiles and collectors.
This Bay Psalm Book, first printed in the United States in 1640, is one of only eleven known surviving copies of the original edition. David Rubenstein bought a copy for $14 million in 2013 (equivalent to $16.5 million today).
A photograph of the Bay Psalm Book, one of only eleven existing copies sold for $16.5 million.
The book holds historical and sentimental significance due to its centuries-old usage and artful craftsmanship―it contains 266 pages, 50 of which are full-page illustrations in the 12th-century Romanesque Gospel of Henry the Lion style.
It's unsurpassed in antiquity and uniqueness are characteristics which continue to lure patrons to its unparalleled value.
The St. Cuthbert Gospel’s rarity, age, and remarkable condition add to its desirability. It's an 8th-century pocket-sized book featuring the four gospels—one of the oldest surviving manuscripts of its kind. The British Library has gone to great lengths to acquire this book, investing over $14.3 million.
The St Cuthbert Gospel, currently a property of The British Library, cost $14.3 million.
It provides exceptional insights into the development of Christianity in Europe during the 8th century. Its value is almost certain to increase because it marks an pivotal era in ecclesiastical history.
The Gospel of Henry the Lion is a 12th-century manuscript used for the consecration of the Virgin Mary in the Brunswick Cathedral. Owned by the German government since 1983, the book is stored safely in the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüt where it’s exhibited biannually.
The Gospel of the Henry Lion was sold for $11.4 million.
Worth an impressive $11.4 million in 1983 (or $34.2 million with today’s inflation), the Gospel of Henry the Lion is a priceless artifact of immense historical and religious significance. An investment in this unique artifact is sure to appreciate over time.
The Wycliffite New Testament manuscript from the early 15th century is a grail (no pun intended) for bibliophiles. Transcribed in Middle English, the late medieval Bible was estimated to be worth between $500,000 and $800,000 in 2016. It features contemporary marginal corrections in a hand-written format and is bound in luxurious white pigskin.
The Wycliffite New Testament Manuscript sold for $1.7 million at Sotheby's.
On December 5, 2016, the extensive Bible collection of renowned theologian Charles Caldwell Ryrie fetched over $7.3 million at Sotheby's. Of that collection, the later Middle English version of the Wycliffite manuscript tripled it’s $1.7 million presale estimate.
This rare copy is one of the most complete to appear at auction in over two decades and is a highly sought-after piece of religious history.
The 1530 Tyndale Pentateuch is a valuable and historic antique bible. It's the only copy in private hands and has not been auctioned in more than 100 years—an incredibly rare artifact to behold. It has an estimated value between $300,000 and $500,000.
The 1530 Tyndale Pentateuch, an incredibly rare item, cost $500,000.
Collectors and Biblical scholars will go to extreme lengths to get their hands on the 1530 Tyndale Pentateuch—the first-ever printed English Bible—as it’s a true collector's item.
The 1616 Illuminated King James Bible is a rare item on sale by Crawford Sterling Rare Books for $295,000. This remarkable 17th-century English work is a stunning small folio edition of the authorized version printed by Robert Barker and bound in contemporary black and blue morocco leathers with gold and silver strip decorations.
A 1616 King James Bible valued at $295,000.
The King James version, adorned with woodcut borders, contains a full-sheet map of the Holy Land, a full-page woodcut of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and intricate geometric border designs on every page. This ornate Bible could make for a prized addition to any library.
The antique Bible market can fetch good money for investors who can access it. According to experts, the value of most rare Bibles appreciates by 15% per year, with the value of first editions rising as much as 25% annually.
At Sotheby's Western Manuscripts sale in London in June 2005, a three-volume, 13th-century Bible in Latin with prologues attributed to Saint Jerome sold for $1.8 million, while an 11th-century Bible sold for $164,081, well above the estimate.
A rare 1611 King James Bible that cost $50,000 five years ago is now worth between $250,000 and $400,000, while individual pages from an original Gutenberg Bible are fetching $100,000 to $150,000.
When assessing the financial value of a rare Bible, consider its physical condition, rarity, binding, illustrations, age, and provenance. Beauty and quality craftsmanship are factors that can increase the value of an antique Bible.
Investing in antique Bibles is rewarding, but is potentially risky. Antique Bibles require special storage and handling, and illiquidity can cause price volatility and make them difficult to sell. For these reasons, you must research and understand the risks of the antiquarian market before investing in rare Bibles.
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