LONDON -- It is a kind of scrapbook, 36 pages of notes in scrawled handwriting written backwards, and by week's end it may have changed hands for $25 million.
What makes the 'Codex Leicester' so incredibly valuable is not its fame -- hardly anyone but musty academics even knew it existed -- or its random, scattergun contents, remarkable though they are.
Instead this 470-year-old manuscript, described by one authority recently as '36 sheets of paper covered with remarkably illegible right-to-left writing and illustrated with marginal sketches of a technical nature,' is worth all those millions because of the man who wrote it:
Leonardo da Vinci.
The Codex Leicester is the last known manuscript by Leonardo, perhaps the most universal genius the world has ever seen, left in private hands.
Despite a bitter and prolonged battle to grab it for a British national museum, it is being sold at Christie's art auction house on Friday.
'It is just impossible to predict its price,' a Christie's spokesman said. 'This is something absolutely unique.'
Guesstimates start at $9.6 million. In today's auction climate, $25 million would surprise no one.
Every leaf of the Codex Leicester demonstrates Leonardo's amazing genius -- some of his conclusions are centuries ahead of his time. Furthermore, this manuscript bears a close relationship Leonardo's famous paintings, including the most famous of them all.
'Without the Codex Leicester, the Mona Lisa would not exist,' says Dr. Carlo Pedretti in his introduction to the sale catalogue.
But it is its rarity which makes it so valuable.
Leonardo paintings are so scarce that both the Louvre museum in Paris and the National Gallery in London claim they own his 'Virgin of the Rocks' -- both of which may actually be by him. Manuscripts which show the working of his remarkable mind, as the Codex Leicester does, are even rarcer.
Leonardo began it about 1508 to jot down his ideas about water -- its properties, how it flows, its vapors and clouds.
But Leonardo's mind raced so swiftly and so widely that he himself confesses on one page of the Leicester manuscript: 'I make such great leaps from one subject to another.'
His 'water' study took him into submarine warfare -- he may have invented the snorkel in these pages; into astronomy and light; into mechanics and draining swamps. He digresses into dams, pile driving and floods, and correctly explains why sea shells are found in mountaintop rocks.
The Earls of Leicester have owned the Leonardo manuscript since 1717. Now the family is forced to sell the Codex to pay inheritance taxes on the vast estate of the 5th earl, who died in 1976.