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Ruth Bader Ginsburg's personal library sells at auction for $2.35 million

The late Supreme Court justice's copy of the 1957-58 Harvard Law Review sold for more than $100,300.
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Ruth Bader Ginsburg's personal library sold at auction for more than $2.35 million.Allison Shelley / Getty Images file

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's personal library sold at an auction Thursday for more than $2.35 million, with one prized book from her collection selling for over $100,000.

Celebrated as a women's rights pioneer and cultural icon known by many as "RBG," Ginsburg died in 2020 from pancreatic cancer. Her death left a pivotal seat open on the Supreme Court, leading to Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett's appointment to the bench weeks before the 2020 election.

Ginsburg's personal library went up for auction last week, with bidding ending Thursday afternoon, the same day that sitting Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced his decision to retire.

The sale had featured dozens of lots of "books, photographs and ephemera" from Ginsburg's private library, including textbooks from her days as a law student and literature that she and her husband, Marty Ginsburg, had enjoyed during their marriage, according to auction house Bonhams.

Among the items on auction was Ginsburg's copy of the 1957-58 Harvard Law Review, which sold for $100,312.50, Bonhams said.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's annotated copy of the 1957-58 Harvard Law Review.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg's annotated copy of the 1957-58 Harvard Law Review.Bonhams

The tome from the Harvard Law Review, which Ginsburg worked on herself, is filled with her annotations. The spine of the book is also imprinted with her name, "Ruth B. Ginsburg," in gilt.

"The year Ginsburg spent on the Harvard Law Review was also the year her husband Martin was diagnosed with cancer and underwent two surgeries and radiation therapy, making the excellence of her work that much more impressive," Bonhams said in a description of the tome.

Ginsburg's personal copy of her own collected writings and speeches, which was specially bound for her by Simon and Schuster, Bonhams said, sold for more than $81,000.

Works such as J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” and David Herbert Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” were among the novels included, alongside volumes by Tolstoy and De Tocqueville.

Speaking with CNBC in an interview on Thursday, Catherine Williamson, a specialist of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams, said Ginsburg's collection attracted bids "beyond our wildest dreams."

Williamson said she had expected the auction to total between $300,000 to $500,000. She was stunned to see that the final bids had totaled a whopping more than $2.3 million.

The specialist said that every one of the available lots, totaling 166, sold at the auction, making it what is known as a "white glove" sale.

“Those don’t happen very often!” she told CNBC in a separate email.

CORRECTION (Jan. 28, 2022, 3:30 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated which justice was appointed to the Supreme Court weeks before the 2020 election. It was Amy Coney Barrett, not Brett Kavanaugh.