1980s |

Da Vinci Notebook Sells For Over 5 Million – 12/12/1980

American oil tycoon Armand Hammer purchases a notebook at an auction on December 12th, 1980 for $5,126,000; it held writings of the famous artist Leonard de Vinci. The manuscript was one of 30 books that were somewhat the same of books created by Leonardo created while alive on different subjects around 1508. The contents held 72 loose pages featuring roughly 300 detailed drawings and notes relating to the concept of water and on its motion. Experts have commented on how da Vinci referred to it when painting the background for the Mona Lisa; now viewed today as his masterwork. 

Written in chalk and brown ink, the text appeared from right to left which was an example of mirror-writing technique; this was a technique Leonardo favored. The notebook was discovered by painter Giuseppi Ghezzi in a chest of paperwork that was owned by Guglielmo Della Porto in 1690; he was a 16th-century Milanese sculptor who had learned about da Vinci’s work. Thomas Coke, known as the first earl of Leicester, purchased the manuscript in 1717 and placed it at his family estate in England with his recognized collection of art.

The notebook would become known as the Leicester Codex over 200 years later as it eventually appeared on auction in London’s Christie as the Lord Coke of present was compromised regarding paying taxes on inheritance of collection of art and the estate; therefore, he had no choice but to sell. The press and art experts guessed that the notebook would fetch a price from $7 to $20 million days prior to the auction. Interestingly, the starting bid was $1.4 million and within minutes, several others began to bid where the amount being raised each time was $100,000.

The final price tag of $5.12 million was the largest price tag ever spent for a manuscript during this period in time; the legendary Gutenberg Bible copy sold in 1978 for merely $2 million. Hammer would say later “I’m very happy with the price. I expected to pay more. There is no work of art in the world I wanted more than this.” Unfortunately for Lord Coke, he was only “reasonably happy” with the fetching price because he said the proceeds would not be enough to pay off the amount he owed.

Hammer is the president of a corporation named Occidental Petroleum and before adding his trophy to his valuable art collection, changed the notebook’s name to the Hammer Codex. The notebook and his other various works eventually went to the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) after his death in 1990.

The museum offered to sell the manuscript several years later saying it had no choice being the funds were needed to pay for legal costs incurred when the niece and only heir of Hammer’s late wife, Frances, went after the estate insinuating he robbed Frances of what was rightfully her part of his fortune. The Hammer Codex was eventually bought at the steep and new record price of $30.8 million at an auction in New York by an unknown bidder later to be identified as Bill Gates; Microsoft’s billionaire founder. Gates restored the manuscript back to the Leicester Codex and presently has let several museums borrow the manuscript for the public to view.

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Kelly Sutherland


Hi! I'm Kelly. My favorite time period was the 70s. I had a boatloads of fun traveling around with my close friends spreading love and just living my life to the fullest... if you know what I mean ;) Now I enjoy sitting in my cozy nook writing and learning about history.