If you’re a rare book collector, perhaps you should consider adding a little poetry to your bookshelf. Some of the oldest and most influential books have been written in poetry. Since prehistoric times it’s been used as a way to communicate ideas, facts, and laws. I know it’s hard to imagine, but before there was written text, there was poetry. As a way to remember historical events and share stories through the generations, people recited or sung poetry. Hymns and chants were used as some of the earliest forms of poetry. As written languages were developed, some of the first books were poetry. Some of the most brilliant minds to ever live created poetry books for thousands of years. A few of my favorite and most valuable poetry books still exist today and can be purchased by collectors and investors to enjoy.
Early Translation of Homer’s Epic Poem ‘The Odyssey’ – $30,000
Some historians believe the Odyssey was written near the end of the 8th century BC in the coastal region of Greece. The author is believed to be Homer, one of the greatest ancient Greek poets ever to live. The poem tells the story of Odysseus, a Greek hero. The Odyssey was part-two after ‘The Iliad,’ which was a tale of the ten-year siege of the city of Troy and the ten-year journey home from the war. Scholars say the original poem was composed in an “oral tradition,” the method of preserving and transmitting stories and ideas from one generation to another without writing them down. The poem’s historians continue to debate the exact details of the ancient oral performances and the conversions to written languages.
Two thousand seven hundred years later, you can buy one of the earliest translations of the epic poem by Homer for around $30,000. This particular copy is a Latin translation by the Roman Hellenic scholar Raphaello Maffei. The translation was published in Rome by Per Lacoubum Mazochium in 1510.
Early Translation of ‘The Illiad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ – $322,000
If you’re looking for The Illiad and The Odyssey and have an almost unlimited budget, here’s another option, selling for $322,000. A 1488 copy of both The Illiad and The Odyssey. Both books translated in mainly Latin and Greek with some Italian and edited by Demetrius Chalcondylas, who was a professor of Greek at the Florentine Studio from 1475 to 1491. This particular copy was from the library of George Shuckburgh, who lived in the late 1700s and was a well-known bibliophile who owned a Gutenberg Bible.
‘Leaves of Grass’ by Walt Whitman – $192,000
When Walt Whitman decided to become a poet, he claimed he was done competing for “the usual rewards.” In 1850 he started writing a collection of poems he titled, ‘Leaves of Grass.’ It’s one of the poet’s most famous works because of it’s radical nature for the time. The book was self-published by Whitman. This particular copy is autographed by Whitman himself. Signed on the title page in block letters, one theory is Whitman wanted to see how the page would look with his name on it. Historians guess there are only 5 or 6 copies in existence with the legendary poets autograph.
‘The Waste Land’ by T.S. Eliot – $12,500
‘The Waste Land’ by T.S. Eliot might just be one of the most important works from a 20th-century poet. I found a first edition signed copy of the bookselling for $12,500 at AbeBooks. Notable sales include an inscribed copy sold at a Christie’s auction in 2002 for over $100,000. The first edition printing during 1922 included only 1,000 copies. This particular copy appears to be in good condition with the binding tight and no marks or writing on any pages. The text offered on AbeBooks is the 442nd copy to run in the first edition.
‘Poems’ by John Donne – $45,000
John Donne is considered one of the most influential poets of his time. Born in 1572, he wrote with “emotional and sonic intensity.” One historian was quoted as saying that Donne’s work has the capacity to “plumb the paradoxes of faith, human and divine love, and the possibility of salvation.”
This first edition collection of John Donne’s poems include the rare inserted leaves stating, “The printer to the understanders,” which are not present in most copies. The book was published by London Printed in 1633.