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This June marked the tenth anniversary of Abebooks.com, an Internet operation that has made things much easier for American Heritage editors along with countless thousands of other people.

Books.
 
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This June marked the tenth anniversary of Abebooks.com, an Internet operation that has made things much easier for American Heritage editors along with countless thousands of other people.

The Canada-based company—Advanced Book Exchange—sells used books —or, more accurately, connects people who want to buy a particular book with a store that has it in stock. Since Abebooks.com’s tendrils extend to 13,500 independent booksellers, it represents a pretty healthy inventory, more than 80 million volumes.

What this means is mirrored in the experience of one of this magazine’s editors. Long ago his father told him that the first book he remembered reading was a turn-of-the-century opus by Ruth Kimball Gardiner called In Happy Far-Away Land . For more than 20 years the editor tried to track down a copy on the most remote shelves of used-book stores and through ads in the trade magazines. No luck. Then the editor discovered Abebooks.com, typed in the title, and instantly found himself with a choice of four copies. He bought one for $22.50 and presented it to his astonished father on his ninety-fourth birthday. (Warning: You won’t always like the book as much as you did when you were a child.)

Bargains abound on Abebooks.com , but for its tenth birthday the company chose to examine the high end of the scale and published a list of the 10 most expensive books it has ever sold. Here they are:

#1 - $65,000 - The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Published in September 1937, this first edition is in its original dust jacket. Only 1,500 copies of the first edition were printed, and they were sold out by mid-December.

#2 - $65,000 - Areopagitica: A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing to the Parliament of England, by John Milton

Published in 1644, this pamphlet by the future author of the epic poem Paradise Lost defended the freedom of the press at a time when the English government was suppressing its opponents’ publications.

#3 - $60,000 - (Utopia) De optimo reip. statu, deque nove insula, by Sir Thomas More

More became a Catholic martyr when Henry VIII beheaded him. This 1518 fourth edition outlines his ideal state and pleads for religious tolerance and universal education.

#4 - $60,000 - Poems, by John Donne, with elegies on the author’s

Little written by Donne appeared in print in his lifetime, but hundreds of manuscript copies were circulated by hand. This 1633 first edition was the first collection of his poems.

#5 - $57,500 - Historical, Military, and Picturesque Observations on Portugal, by Lt. Col. George Thomas Landmann

This 1818 first edition is described as “the most beautiful illustrated English book on Portugal of the period.” Landmann fought in the Peninsular War, and his book details sieges and battles.

#6 - $46,061 - Koran

This handwritten version of the Koran was published in the Arabic year of 1152 (1731 in the Western world).

#7 - $38,000 - Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States, by Henry Rowe Schoolcraf

In 1847 Congress asked Schoolcraft to conduct this survey. The result is one of the most important works about the American Indian.

#8 - $36,059 - Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling

The 1997 first edition of Rowling’s debut book is hard to find, as the hardcover print run was just 500 copies.

#9 - $27,582 - Traité d’anatomie et de physiologie, avec des planches...

A very rare medical handbook, published in 1786 in Paris and bound in leather.

#10 - $26,500 - 1984, by George Orwell

Orwell was hospitalized with tuberculosis just after the book’s publication in 1949 and never left the hospital alive, so signed copies are scarce. Some were given to hospital staff; this one is inscribed “For Elly with regards, Geo. Orwell.”