First printed book in English sold for over £1 million

The book was published in 1474.

A 540-year-old book, known as the first to be printed in the English language, has sold at an auction for more than £1 million (N276 million).

The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye is a version of a French book written around 1463.
It was translated over a three-year period by William Caxton, who pioneered the printing press in England.

He published his version around 1474, at a time when most books were printed in Latin, in either Ghent or Bruges, Belgium.

The story is an epic romance which portrays the heroes of Greek mythology as chivalric figures, according to Sotheby’s, which auctioned it. It was produced as a gift for the Duke of Burgundy’s new wife Margaret, the sister of the English King, Edward IV.

The guide price going into the auction was £600,000 (N165 million) for a volume that is one of only 18 surviving copies.

But a bidding war between three rivals pushed the auction up to a hammer price of £900,000 (N249 million), with the buyer paying £1,082,500 (N299 million) after the Sotheby’s added its commission.

Sotheby’s books specialist, Gabriel Heaton, said the work marked a watershed moment in literary history when the father of English printing, William Caxton, embarked on the radical commercial decision to print the first book in English.

“Produced at a time when printing in the vernacular was still in its infancy, and when there was a relatively small domestic readership, this was a risky enterprise,” he added.

The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye was the first book Caxton printed, and its production appeared to take its toll on a man who was a leading figure in the 15th Century English mercantile community.

In the book’s epilogue, Caxton said: “In the writing of the same, my pen is worn, mine hand weary and not steadfast, mine eyes dimmed with overmuch looking on the white paper.”



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