John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress was first published in 1678. Although he was largely uneducated he wrote over 60 books in his lifetime and preached to crowds, earning himself about 12 years in a dark and dank prison cell. Bunyan was a simple man, but wholly captivated by the Word of God. Even John Owen, an Oxford dean and very learned indeed, said to Charles II, "May it please your Majesty, if I could possess the tinker's abilities to grip men's hearts, I would gladly give in exchange all my learning." Bunyan's books did grip people's hearts, so much so that Pilgrim's Progress went through eleven editions in Bunyan's own lifetime, and countless since. People love to say it is second only to the Bible, though after searching online (for quite a while) I'm not sure how any sort of number could be finally calculated. The first editions were cheaply printed and bound in brown sheep leather. They were loved, not by the wealthy and the nobility, but by the common man. They were read and reread and passed on to children as a treasure. Those early editions of Pilgrim's Progress were worn and tattered and today there are only four known copies of editions published during Bunyan's lifetime.
Only four known copies, you would think they would fetch quite a price at auction. No doubt it's a figure entirely out of reach for someone like me, with an ultra-budget friendly version of the book on my own shelves. I can't find a dollar figure, but I found an article by an antiquarian bookseller in the UK, who states one sold in 2004 for less than a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone). The previous auction record for Potter was $10,750. The Leaky Cauldron (a Harry Potter site) wrote in 2009 that a first edition was expected to sell for $15,000-18,000 and ehow says one sold for $40,000. The recession doesn't hit some of us quite as hard as others, does it? Those are my numbers, numbers as a small indicator that the world today doesn't love a tinker's simple tale quite as well as it loves...well, Harry Potter. But, you already knew that, didn't you?
An aside: the world's "most expensive book" as of December 7, 2010 is a first edition of John James Audubon's Bird's of America predicted to sell for 9.5 million dollars (found this here -scroll down). While I do love Audubon's birds and animals, lifelike and in motion, I'd still choose Pilgrim's Progress first.