Heavy reading: Rise of the £imited editions

Football icon Bobby Charlton yesterday helped launch the £3,000 tome 'The United Opus', the latest expensive coffee-table book. But who is producing them, and who can afford to buy them? Terry Kirby investigates
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Title: The United Opus

Author: Various

Published by: Kraken Opus

Publication date: December 2006

Cost: £3,000 for the United Limited Edition (signed by Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex Ferguson) and £4,250 for the United Icons Edition (also signed by Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and Denis Law).

Pages: 850

Price per page: £3.75/£5.30

Weight: 34kg

Numbers printed: 10,000

What you get: Launched yesterday, it is the definitive history of the world's most famous football club, say the publishers.

It is also probably the heaviest book currently published, weighing 34kg, although at 20ins square it is still smaller than the Helmut Newton book, Sumo (see below).

It contains more than 400,000 words on the Reds by some of the world's leading sports writers, including the Independent's own James Lawton, 2,000 of the most iconic photographic images from the club's history and a specially compiled list of the Top 50 United players of all time.

It also includes interviews with some of the clubs great players, including Sir Bobby Charlton, Eric Cantona and Wayne Rooney as well as Sir Alex Ferguson.

The first copy is to be signed by the entire current first team squad and auctioned in aid of Unicef, which will also receive 5 per cent of all profits from all sales of the book.

The publishers see this as a first of a series of such projects, with further books planned on Maradona, Formula 1 racing and Wimbledon.

Who to buy it for this Christmas: Well, you wouldn't give it to an Arsenal fan, would you?

Title: Phaidon Collector's Editions

Authors: Luc Tuymans, Nobuyoshi Araki, Rene Burri, Nan Goldin, Elliott Erwitt, Martin Parr

Published by: Phaidon

Publication dates: Various

Costs: £345 to £1,250

Pages: Various

Number printed: 100 to 250

What you get: In this venture, five photographers and one painter, Tuymans, get the limited edition treatment, but with a complicated twist. Each book is a lovingly packaged retrospective, published over the last few years and each copy is accompanied by a print, chosen from a small selection from the artist, or just one in the case of Tuyman. Four are limited to 100 copies of each book/print; Erwitt has up to 250, depending on which of his six prints are chosen.

And the price? It depends, says Phaidon, on how many books are left, with prices rising as the number diminishes. At present, for instance, three of Martin Parr's editions are priced at £345, £345 and £398 respectively; a fourth price is only given out to serious purchasers; one of Nan Goldin's selection of three book/prints is selling for £1,150

Who to buy it for: Aficionados of fine modern photography.

Title: Helmut Newton's SUMO

Author: June Newton (Ed)

Published by: Taschen

Publication date: November 1999

Cost: £3,500

Pages: 464

Weight: 30kg

Number printed: 10,000

Price per page: £7.50

What you get: On its Phillipe Stark-designed display table, this monster, (27x27.5 inches) laid claim to being the biggest book, until the arrival of the Ali and ManchesterUnited tomes, which are heavier but smaller in size. Newton, who died in 2004, specialised in erotic and nude portraits, although there also many pictures of the famous as well as his fashion work.

Who to buy it for: Connoisseurs of high-class erotica.

Title: Snowblind, Damien Hirst Edition

Author: Robert Sabbag

Published by: Canongate

Publication date: May 1999

Cost: £1,000

Pages: 289

Price per page: £3.45

Weight: 1.5kg

Number printed: 1,000

What you get: Surely one of the most unusual of all limited edition books, this a Damien Hirst- designed edition of the cult book about the cocaine smuggler Zachery Swan, by Robert Sabbag . The hardback covers are made from reinforced mirrors, the title page is signed by Hirst, Sabbag and Howard Marks and there is a metal American Express card as a bookmark. Inside, a special trench is cut through the pages hiding a $100 bill, specially ordered from the US Treasury so that the last three digits of each note correspond to the number ofthe edition. One review noted that Hirst has fetishised cocaine consumption into an art form.

Who not to buy it for: Anyone fighting a cocaine habit.

Only about 200 books are left.

Title: GOAT

Author: Various

Published by: Taschen

Publication date: June 2004

Cost: £6,750 for the Champ's edition; £2,000 for Collector's

Pages: 792

Weight: 34kg

Price per page: £2.50/£8.50

Number printed: Champ's 1,000; Collector's 9,000

What you get: This claims to be the authoritative book on the world's greatest boxer, containing contributions from dozens of writers with 3,000 photographs, posters and other memorabilia. The Champ's has four prints by Howard Bingham, signed by him and Ali. The Collector's contains a Koon's photo-litho.

Who to buy it for: Fight fans.

Title: Pele

Authors: Various

Published by: Gloria

Publication date: August 2006

Cost: £1,600 for the Samba edition, signed by Pele, £4,000 for the Carnival edition, signed by all surviving members of the three World Cup-winning 1970 Brazilian team

Pages: 696

Price per page: £2.30/£5.75

Weight: 12kgs

Number printed: 2,500 of the Samba edition, 150 Carnival

What do you get: The slum boy who became what is seen as the world's greatest footballer gets the Ali treatment. It includes 300,000 words from top writers, 1,700 images and many interviews. Many rare photos, including some by Andy Warhol.

Who to buy it for:

Serious fans of the beautiful game.

Title: Antarctica, Explorer Series Volume 1

Authors: Pat and Rosemarie Keough

Published by: Nahanni Productions Inc

Publication date: January 2002

Cost: £1,800

Pages: 336

Price per page: £5.35

Weight: 8.6 kilograms

Number printed: 950

What you get: Winner of several awards for its artistic excellence, this tome was self-published by Rosemarie and Pat Keough, two Canadian wildlife photographers, and all profits go to the Save the Albatross fund. Its stunning photographs of iceflows, abandoned explorer's huts and albatrosses are the fruits of two years in the often hostile environment at the bottom of the world. The book was a labour of love for the couple; they spent five months examining every page of every book for errors. Bound in goat leather, it comes in a linen- and velvet-lined presentation box; a special bookstand is an extra £770.

Who to buy it for: Wildlife junkies.

Title: Peter Beard Art Edition

Author: Peter Beard, Owen Edwards, Steven M L Aronson

Published by: Taschen

Publication date: November 2006

Cost: £1,350

Pages: 616

Price per page: £2.20

Number printed: 2,500

What you get: Diaries and collages, including five foldouts, from the renowned photographer and artist Peter Beard. His career has taken him from being on the road with the Rolling Stones and shooting fashion for Vogue to groundbreaking wildlife photography in Africa and his extraordinary illustrated diaries and collages. The book also includes an essay by critic Owen Edwards and an interview with Beard himself. Another book with its own stand.

Who to buy it for: People who couldn't afford the 250-copy, individually numbered and signed, leather-bound Collector's Edition, the first 125 of which came with its own Beard print, which has already sold out. It cost £3,500.

Title: The Millionaire Maker

Author: Matthias Schmelz

Self-published by: Matthias Schmelz

Publication date: June 2006

Cost: £500

Pages: 450

Price per page: £1.10

What you get: "If you don't become a millionaire after reading this book, you can return it and get your money back," says Matthais Schmelz, a multimillionaire from sales and training. The book is made up of soundbites by people such as Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Donald Trump.

Who to buy it for: People in the next series of The Apprentice. And keep the receipt.

Title: Artists and Prostitutes

Author: David LaChapelle

Published by: Taschen

Publication date: April 2005

Cost: £1,350

Pages: 698

Price per page: £1.95

Number printed: 2,500

What you get: Once known as the "Fellini of photography", LaChapelle has photographed everyone in celebrityland from Lance Armstrong to Britney Spears and has now moved into set designing and documentary film-making. This huge book, numbered and signed by LaChapelle, is a collection of his best work, printed in Pan4C, which is said to be the finest reproduction technique available.

Who to buy it for: Anyone who has snapped a celeb for Heat magazine on their mobile.

Additional research by Rob Hyde