A rare, complete copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America was sold for £7.3 million ($11.4 million) at Southeby's in London, UK, on 7 December 2010. The book contains 1,000 life-size illustrations of 435 birds drawn and printed by the West Indian-born American artist Audubon (1785–1851) between 1827 and 1838. The illustrations were originally sold a page at a time to collectors, and only 119 complete editions are known to exist. Prior to the auction, the book formed part of the collection of Frederick Fermor-Hesketh, 2nd Baron Hesketh (1916–1955).
The full title is Birds of America: A Visionary Achievement in Ornithological Illustration, and the pages are what printers call double elephant folio - 39.5 by 26.5 inches (100 by 67 cm), allowing Audubon to render the paintings actual size.
Among other items sold from Hesketh's collection were a rare First Folio by William Shakespeare – described by Southeby's as "the most important book in all of English Literature" - and letters written by Queen Elizabeth I.
NOTE: This record is for a published book - Leonardo da Vinci's handwritten Leicester Codex was sold to Bill Gates for $31 million in 1994; a complete edition of the Gutenberg bible could sell at auction for up to $50 million, although no complete copies have been sold for more than 30 years.
Comments below may relate to previous holders of this record.