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The Price Rick Paid For One Leaf Of A Gutenberg Bible Might Surprise You

You can bet regular sellers know how to pique World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop owner Rick Harrison's interest. When bookseller Adam Weinberger visited with a leaf from a Gutenberg Bible — a book so rare that only 21 complete copies exist today — he knew had something special. "It's really the first substantial printed book in the history of the world," he said.

When he entered the shop, Adam was armed with information designed to dazzle Rick, who's shelled out big bucks for books before. He showed Rick the dates that indicated when the leaf was likely printed (during the mid-1400s). He talked about the section the leaf came from (the Old Testament, from the second book of Chronicles). He spoke about the paper used (very fine and imported from Italy to Germany during the period), as well as the events that led to the bible being sold as separate pages. 

Before talk turned to price, Adam even led the discussion toward the significance of Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press around 1440. "There's no more important invention in the history of democracy than the printing press because it's the democratization of knowledge that puts the power of knowledge into the hands of the people," he told Rick. It was an impressive argument for a significant asking price, and Adam had a figure in mind. Still, the number was so high, it came with a warning. "You better brace yourself, but remember the importance of the book," Adam said, leading up to the big finish: "$65,000 for the page."

While convinced the item had value, Rick's face had "sticker shock" written all over it. He wasn't about to drop that kind of cash without a deeper dive into the page's worth.

Rick was lowballed

Rick's first move was to call in Rebecca Romney, a rare book specialist. "It would be a sin if I didn't make a profit on this thing," he said.

First question: How could he be sure the leaf was authentic? Romney inspected it, holding it up to the light to look at what she called chain lines specific to handmade paper of the period. She concluded that yes, this was indeed a leaf from a Gutenberg Bible of the 1400s. Next came the obvious follow-up. What value would Romney place on the leaf? "Dealers I know and trust, they're going to place this around $80,000," she said. "I think that is fair to ask for right now, the way things are looking in the market."

Of course, with profit margins on his mind, Rick didn't want to go quite that high. He suggested half that, offering Adam only $40,000. But the seller wanted to make a buck, too. As the pair went back and forth, it was clear that both wanted to be fair, considering their long-standing relationship. The dealings continued well under Romney's valuation and Adam's original asking price. But in the end, they agreed on a number Rick felt was a stretch: $47,000.

"You're not going to be mad when you make a small fortune," Adam said as they shook hands. Rick appeared to have no regrets about his purchase. "It's amazing," he said.