At first glance a £10,500 hammer price at auction for a hardback, first edition, first impression copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone might not seem anything magical.
After all, copies of JK Rowling’s debut novel about the boy wizard have sold well into the six figures, including an example that in December 2021 became the most expensive commercially published 20th-century work of fiction ever sold.
However, when that £10,500 result (plus 22% buyer’s premium on top) is examined closely it is not too shabby – for a copy that was in a particularly shabby condition.
Offered at Staffordshire saleroom Richard Winterton on July 10-11, it provides a useful benchmark for how value is determined for a book that continues to leave so many collectors spellbound.
First five hundred
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published on June 30, 1997, by Bloomsbury. For the first edition, first impression (or first printing) hardback issue with laminated boards just 500 were produced.
Of these, 300 copies were sent to schools and libraries – which provides the initial dividing line in price and demand.
Those institutional copies suffered a great deal of wear and tear and many that have emerged are in very poor condition. The Winterton copy withdrawn from Wolverhampton Library was one of the worst, hence an estimate of £3000-5000.
Not bad for a book bought for not even a quid. Auctioneer Richard Winterton said: “This copy has clearly been well-read and still has its library identification sticker, spine sticker with the letter J, withdrawal stamp and 30p selling price.”
The sale attracted international interest, with the winning bid placed online via thesaleroom.com from Los Angeles.
The book was part of the personal collection of a Staffordshire man who had a lifelong passion for books and ephemera. He died unexpectedly at the beginning of the year aged 55. Auctioneers discovered the book after a painstaking search of hundreds of boxes of his belongings.
The family knew that he had acquired a valuable Harry Potter book but feared it had gone astray.
“When he moved house four years ago he literally put everything into hundreds of boxes, many of which went into containers”, his sister said. “We knew that he had got the book but if you asked him to pinpoint it he couldn’t. So for the last four years this book has been ‘lost’ and I think we had come to the conclusion that it had disappeared into the ether somewhere.”
Given the condition of the former library or school examples, values will inevitably vary usually within five figures.
Derbyshire auction house Hansons (which also holds sales in Staffordshire) sold an ex-library copy, discarded by one such authority when considered too scruffy to remain in circulation. It made a £33,000 hammer price in May 2020.
Two years earlier another tatty former library copy sold for £24,000 at Sotheby’s, in December 2018.
What about the remaining 200 hardback, first edition, first impression copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? This is where the prices really start to rack up. For example, Hansons had sold a non-inscribed copy for £45,000 in October 2019.
Here, condition is paramount – with a decent provenance and backstory adding appeal.
In March 2022 Hansons sold a copy for £69,000. The vendor, said the saleroom, was a “financial director for a paper merchant who brokered supplies of paper to the book trade. He saw a review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in The Bookseller, 1997, and ordered a copy from The Leatherhead Bookworm.”
As a collector of children’s books, “he decided to keep the book safe, in unread condition, and later bought another copy for his daughter to read when the Gift Set was released, and used the slipcase (and dust-jacket from the later issue Philosopher’s Stone) to protect and house these two first issues of his own, both of which remained unread”.
In July 2021 North Yorkshire auction house Tennants took a hammer price of £80,000 for an “exceptional copy”, acquired new by the vendor in 1997 from Dillons, 25 Wheeler Gate, Nottingham (the premises are best remembered under the original trading name of Sisson and Parker).
Another offered at Hansons made £41,000 (guide £30,000-40,000) in May 2021. The vendor said it was purchased “when our three children were quite young. We used to go on holiday to a campsite in Clachtoll in the north-west Highlands of Scotland and bedtime reading was meant to be exciting after what may have been a typical summer’s dreich day.
“This book was bought in the local Achins bookshop, the most remote bookshop in mainland Scotland, on a wet and windy day from the sale bin for 50p which perhaps reflected the slow initial uptake.”
A copy rather bizarrely catalogued as “recently rediscovered, and since then stored in a saucepan for safety” came up for auction at Bonhams in December 2021. Sold for £85,000, it had been acquired by the owner in the west of England in 1997, and long kept in the attic after a house move.
Making the same hammer price at the same saleroom in November 2022 was an example sold on behalf of a Yorkshire family, one of whom recounted: “My husband had the radio on in the car, we think something like Radio 4 Book Club, and they were promoting the book. Our son at the time didn’t like reading and my husband thought it may be a good book to capture his imagination and get him to be a greater reader like the rest of our family.
“We ordered the book from a local bookshop called Wades in Halifax. It took a number of weeks to arrive. My son didn’t engage with the book but my husband really enjoyed the read. He bought all the other books in the series and we think our youngest son had a newer paperback version while the original book has remained in our bookcase until now.”
In January this year Forum Auctions took £60,000 for a “superb example”.
Ex-library copies, pristine versions – but what gives the kick to take these hardback, first edition, first impression copies to stratospheric levels?
Well, as with so many big results in the books auction world, inscriptions are key. Rowling would have received a number of copies when the book that was to launch a publishing phenomenon appeared on the last day of June 1997. The books inscribed by her for friends, acquaintances and family members are usually where the huge prices lie.
Prices for the prized first issue hardback copies in general had seemed to peak in 2007, when the seventh and last book in the series was published and when a signed copy of the first made £23,000 at Bloomsbury Auctions.
A particularly special copy with revealing commentary in the author’s hand but also 22 of her own original illustrations did take £150,000 at Sotheby’s in 2013 but it was a charity auction.
But then in December 2016, on the very eve of Harry’s anniversary year, an “almost mint” signed and inscribed copy took £46,000 at Sotheby’s. At the end of 2017 – the year that marked the boy wizard’s 20th birthday – an exceptionally well-preserved and inscribed example sold at £85,000 in a November 15 sale in the Bonhams Knightsbridge rooms.
The big prices kept on coming.
In December 2018 a copy signed by Rowling at a Harrods launch had made a then record $130,000 (£102,050 at the time) at Christie’s in New York, while in November 2019 another signed copy fetched $120,000 (£93,250) at Hindman in Chicago.
Sold at £95,000 at Bonhams in March 2020 was a particularly special copy. It was inscribed in 1998 to Bryony Evens at a promotional reading of JK Rowling’s second book at the Cheltenham Literary Festival.
In 1995 its author had sent the first three chapters only to a literary agent, Christopher Little, whom she picked from a list on the basis that he sounded like a character from a children’s book.
The manuscript was initially rejected – the agency having not previously handled children’s literature – but office manager Evens read it, was instantly smitten and persuaded Little to request the whole manuscript. By 1998 she was no longer working there but Rowling was overjoyed to meet her in the signing queue.
Another inscribed example appeared at Edinburgh saleroom Lyon & Turnbull in June 2020 and took a mighty £100,000.
A whopping £175,000 hammer price was paid at Bonhams in June last year for an ‘extremely good’ version inscribed by Rowling To Jenny and Lucy, with best wishes, J.K. Rowling and dated 6-9-97 on front free endpaper. It was provenanced to an acquaintance of Rowling, who asked the author to inscribe the copy to her young relatives Jenny and Lucy, the vendors at Bonhams.
However, we have to thank the condition factor to help explain the astonishing $380,000 (£286,575) hammer price paid for the copy sold at Heritage Auctions of Dallas in December 2021.
At the time, Joe Maddalena, executive vice-president at Heritage, said: “Not only is it the most expensive Harry Potter book ever sold, it’s the most expensive commercially published 20thcentury work of fiction ever sold.”
A private collector had somehow “got their hands on it at the time it was published”.
Maddalena added: “It is in untouched, mint condition which is why it was so sought-after. The consignor bought it in 1998 when she was collecting first edition books turned into films. Once Harry Potter was published it took off like a rocket and it was clear from an early stage that it would be made into a movie, although she wouldn’t have known that for sure at the time [the film followed in 2001].”
As in the comics market, US auctions are often on a different level of prices paid.
If even a scruffier hardback copy is beyond your financial reach, another option for a Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone first edition, first impression is a paperback version.
With 5150 produced for sale these are much more common than the hardback examples (but nowhere near as common as the later books as Harry Potter mania took hold).
In October 2022 Hansons sold a paperback version for £6200. Purchased in 1997 from the Lion & Unicorn bookshop, Richmond, London, it was estimated at £4000- 6000.
One sold at Forum for a hammer price of £2600 (guide £1000-1500) on July 13 was described as ‘rather creased, rubbing along joints and edges, publisher’s laminate peeling away at upper corner, spine faded’.
However, a copy offered on May 25 catalogued as ‘sunning and light creasing to spine ends, very minor wear to corners, still an excellent copy overall’ sold just under estimate at £3800, while one with a similar description made a within-estimate £4800 on March 30.
Another took £2100 at Dominic Winter on June 14 against an estimate of £1000-1500 and a copy made £2800, dipping below estimate, at Lyon & Turnbull on June 21.
Or if you do prefer hardback, try a first edition, second impression. Copies at auction in 2021 for example have included Bonhams (£5500), Lyon & Turnbull (£4000) and Mullen’s (€5200).
A first edition, third impression – the first version to include a dust jacket – sold at Bonhams for £2800 in June 2021.
Is your budget more in the under £1000 bracket? Fear not. A Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone first edition could be bought at £650 at Hansons in 2022 – albeit a fourth issue.
Proof copies count
Another entry point to the first edition Potter market is through uncorrected proof copies. An example of these original white and yellow wrappers, one of about 200 produced, was described as in “very good condition, only very light handling, few small marks and spots and a small crease down spine. All pages are clean and present” by Surrey auction house Ewbank’s (25% buyer’s premium).
When it was offered in March 2022 with an estimate of £5000-8000, the saleroom said: “This book is fresh to the market and the third of these books we have offered at auction.” It was consigned from a private source “who was involved with publishing and has owned it from 1997”. The result was £20,000.
Another of these uncorrected proof copies, with ‘J.A. Rowling’ on the title-page, was offered together with a colour trial design for the covers at Bonhams (27.5/26/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) in June last year. It was given to the vendor while working in a bookshop in 1997. Guided at £15,000-20,000, it took £25,000.
First edition factors
Book dealer Peter Harrington has a handy list on its website of how to tell if your copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a first edition, first impression. It states: “To be a first edition, in either hard or soft cover, there are four very important issue points, all of which your book must have.”
1. The publisher must be listed as Bloomsbury at the bottom of the title page.
2. The latest date listed in the copyright information must be 1997.
3. The print line on the copyright page must read ‘10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1’, ten down to one, exactly. The lowest figure in the print line indicates the printing. (For instance, if your copy has ‘20 19 18 17’, it’s a less valuable seventeenth printing.)
4. On page 53, in the list of school supplies that Harry receives from Hogwarts, the item ‘1 wand’ must appear twice, once at the beginning and once at the end. This mistake was corrected in the second printing of the book (although it re-appeared in some later printings).
It adds: “You may have been told that you have a first printing if the copyright is in the name of ‘Joanne Rowling’, but that’s not true. All early printings of this title have the same copyright statement.”
The Harry Potter books:
1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
2.…Chamber of Secrets (1998)
3.…Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
4.…Goblet of Fire (2000)
5.…Order of the Phoenix (2003)
6.…Half-Blood Prince (2005)
7.…Deathly Hallows (2007)
Forum Auctions (26/25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) says Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the fifth novel) is one of the most difficult titles to find signed.
So the London auction house did well to locate a first edition from 2003 not only signed by JK Rowling but with film cast signatures including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Tom Felton and Richard Griffiths. Offered on July 13, it sold on the low estimate of £4000.
It came with a ‘PSA/DNA letter of authenticity loosely inserted along with two tickets from the London premiere and cast and crew screening for the film, original pictorial boards, dust-jacket, light creasing to foot of spine, and Signed by the Author at Waterstones sticker to upper cover’.
A ‘superb example’ first edition, first state copy of the third novel in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 1999, took a within-estimate £2600 at Forum in the same sale.
A first edition, first impression second state copy sold for £750.