A 72-page volume of sketches and other writings by the great Leonardo da Vinci now identified as the Codex Leicester is easily among the most expensive volumes of all time. And going back to November of 1994, it’s been the property of one Bill Gates, who purchased it at auction for $30.8 million and has held onto the volume ever since.
A recent CNBC story goes into why Gates not only purchased the book but why he’s held on to it for almost 25 years and counting, keeping in mind that back in 1994 he was very wealthy from Microsoft but hadn’t yet become the richest person on Earth. What drove the famously thrifty Bill Gates to drop so much on such a small item? In a 2013 interview with 60 Minutes, he spoke about the qualities he sees in Leonardo that make him such a personal hero to him:
“It’s an inspiration that one person — off on their own, with no feedback, without being told what was right or wrong — that he kept pushing himself, that he found knowledge itself to be the most beautiful thing.”
More recently, Bill Gates elaborated on his continuing admiration of Leonardo on his personal blog, on which he recommended Walter Isaacson’s 2017 biography of Leonardo as one of his highly recommended summer reading books the following year. There, he spoke of Leonardo’s “sense of wonder and curiosity” as his most important ability:
“When he wanted to understand something — whether it was the flow of blood through the heart or the shape of a woodpecker’s tongue — he would observe it closely, scribble down his thoughts, and then try to figure it all out.
“Even though, in the age of free Wikipedia entries and YouTube videos, it’s easier than ever to satisfy your curiosity. It’s ironic that we can be reminded about the wonders of modern life by a man who lived 500 years ago.”
Also last year, Bill Gates embarked on a project to share the Codex Leicester with the general public. It’s called Codescope, and it’s an interactive kiosk that lets users page through a digital copy of the Codex Leicester, which is itself too old and too precious to actually be read in the traditional way. The Codescope made a tour through museums in Europe along with the Codex Leicester in 2018, as part of a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.
Given all this, if Gates were going to spend more than $30 million on an old sketchbook, it figures that it would be one of Leonardo’s.