Oldest privately owned book sells for RM18mil at British auction sale


By AGENCY

The Crosby-Schoyen Codex, once owned by Norwegian businessman and rare book collector Martin Schoyen, contains the earliest complete copies of the book of Jonah and Peter's first epistle. Photo: AFP

The world's oldest book in a private collection, and one of the earliest books in existence, sold at auction in London on Tuesday for more than £3mil (approximately RM18mil).

The Crosby-Schoyen Codex was previously owned by the Norwegian businessman and rare book collector Martin Schoyen, and contains the earliest complete copies of two texts from the Bible – the book of Jonah and Peter's first epistle.

Bidding for the text at Christie's auction house started at £1.7mil (RM10.2mil) for a mix of enthusiastic online and in-person bidders.

It sold for £3,065,000 (RM18.4mil) including taxes to an anonymous phone bidder.

The codex was discovered by Egyptian farmers in the 1950s.

It was originally copied by a monk in what is now Egypt around the fourth century AD, making it at least 1,600 years old and far older than more renowned ancient texts such as the Gutenberg Bible, which dates from the 1450s.

A close-up view of The Crosby-Schoyen that was sold on auction in London on June 11. Photo: AFPA close-up view of The Crosby-Schoyen that was sold on auction in London on June 11. Photo: AFP

Written in Coptic script on double-sided papyrus leaves now preserved between plexiglass plates, the ancient biblical text represents advances in written technology at a time when single-sided scrolls were more commonplace.

Twelve additional select pieces from the Schoyen Collection also went up for auction alongside the literary jewel.

The entire collection comprises over 20,000 pieces, spanning 5,000 years of history from 3,500 BC to the present day, according to its website.

Although impressive, the sale is far from the highest selling price for a rare text.

Last year, the Codex Sassoon – a Hebrew Bible more than 1,000 years old – sold for US$38.1mil (RM180mil) at Sotheby's in New York in a new record.

That surpassed the US$30.8mil (RM145mil) that Microsoft founder Bill Gates paid in 1994 for Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester manuscript.

The most expensive historical document remains one of the first prints of the US Constitution, which Sotheby's sold for US$43mil (RM203mil) in November 2021. – AFP

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