Ever since the Codex Seraphinianus was first published in 1981, the book has been recognized as one of the weirdest and most enigmatic art books ever created. Luigi Serafini , the book’s author and illustrator has also taken on projects as an architect, ceramist, glazier, painter, sculptor, designer, opera director, set designer, and critic. As a result, his brilliant creativity is portrayed on every page of this book. His visual encyclopedia of an unknown world written in an unknown language has sparked numerous speculation attempts to solve its mysterious coding in the disciplines of genetics, zoology, botany, mineralogy, physiology, technology and so forth. The most ambitious of these attempts concluded that the book’s page numeration follows a math system based on the number 21. Serafini himself continues to deny that the script has any meaning, though, and a visit to his website says it all – it’s all blank.
There are several editions of this very popular and collectible book released, some more rare than others. The original which was published in 1981 by Franco Maria Ricci as a double volume in slipcase, is by far the scarcest and most expensive (over $5000) of them all.
Thirty-two years after this first edition, Rizzoli published a new edition of the work in two versions, trade and deluxe, which were enriched with new boards specially designed by the author and by the text of Italo Calvino, which introduced the very first edition. The deluxe, limited edition of 600 copies numbered and signed by Serafini is scheduled to be released in the United States on October 29th. A similar Latin edition limited to 600 copies also, was already released in Europe earlier. The set contains one of the four Ta-Roc Seraphiniani, giant cards in which the artist interprets the mythological bird Roc of the adventures of Sinbad, each in a limited edition of 150 copies. The book also contains a new, 22-page “Decodex” insert in which the author explains in various languages when and how the Codex came to life and the telepathic help he received from a stray white cat that accompanied him while creating the Codex in Rome in the 1970’s. This edition has also been redesigned by the author, and includes never before published drawings in the first 2 chapters of the book.
In the used book market, Serafini’s works command high prices having established a cult following eager to acquire primarily his limited availability offerings. The deluxe 2013 edition of Codex Seraphinianus is being released with a price of €300 ($400), which is quite pricey. Past pricing history suggests that Amazon’s current pre-order pricing of $271.91 may be a bargain. In 2010, a tribute celebration to Jules Renard’s Histoires Naturelles which was interpreted by Serafini in signed edition limited to 660 and titled Storie Naturali, had a similar pricing structure. It took around two years to sell out. Prices in the used book market have climbed since then to at least twice the original release price.
How does a brand new release with ample availability attain rare book status? It may be due to its limited edition of 1200 (600 for the Latin and another 600 for the release in English), or due to the uniqueness inherent in autographed copies. The real reason, though, is in this case driven by the other side of the equation – demand. Since its first appearance in 1981, Serafini’s puzzling book managed to attract a worldwide range of audience that boosted sales and prices while maintaining a continuous flow of revisions and new editions. It’s an ingenious marketing approach to exploiting market forces with a fresh product in a proven killer publication. Yes, demand continues to grow. With the advent of new social media and forms of communication that facilitate the sharing and spreading of information, the Codex is now more relevant and timely than ever.