Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Personal Library Sells For $2.3 Million, Exceeding ‘Wildest Dreams’ Of Auctioneers

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s annotated copy of the 1957-58 Harvard Law Review sold for $100,312.50 in an auction by Bonhams that included over 1,000 books and other items from the late Supreme Court Justice’s personal library and raised over $2.3 million, wildly exceeding auctioneers’ expectations.


Other high-ticket items at the auction, which ended Thursday, included a copy of Ginsburg’s collected writings, My Own Words, which sold for $81,562.50, an inscribed first-edition copy of Gloria Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road, which sold for $52,812.50, and a Columbia Law School jurisprudence textbook, which sold for $44,062.50.

Bidding exceeded the “wildest dreams” of auctioneers, who initially expected the entire collection to sell for between $300,000 and $500,000, Bonhams books and manuscripts specialist Catherine Williamson told CNBC.

The auction’s 166 lots mostly comprised nonfiction works such as law reference books, judicial biographies and texts on feminism, but also included classic fiction works like Miguel De Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and two copies of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

After Ginsburg’s death, her collection of paperbacks was donated to prison libraries.


In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project where, as general counsel, she argued six gender discrimination cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning five. From her appointment to the Supreme Court in 1993 until her death from pancreatic cancer in 2020, Ginsburg took a targeted approach to reducing gender discrimination, avoiding sweeping judgments under the theory that social change should come from legislative rather than judicial bodies. Justice Clarence Thomas, whose conservative principles differed from Ginsburg’s, described her as “the essence of grace, civility and dignity.” Ginsburg unexpectedly became a cult figure in the 2010s, and was the subject of a children’s book, a rap on Saturday Night Live, a bobblehead and a Funko Pop figurine, among other items.


“A person’s library can give us a sense of who the individual is and how she came to be,” Williamson said in a statement. “Justice Ginsburg’s library is no different, as it records her evolution from a student (and voracious reader) to lawyer and law professor, to judge and finally, Justice of the United States Supreme Court.”


Not every item in Ginsburg’s library fetched thousands. A copy of The RBG Workout, authored by Bryant Johnson, Ginsburg’s personal trainer, was valued at just $300-$500 before being withdrawn.


The auction concluded the same day Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement.