Harry Potter casts spell on bibliophiles

NEW YORK – Perhaps more so than any other series, the Harry Potter books have woven their magic on readers. They have spawned legions of fans with fond remembrances of midnight release parties and thumbing through dog-eared, well-loved copies. It usually takes several decades for a book to become collectible but these books already rank are among the most desirable to book collectors.

First and special editions are highly prized and the last four books in the series sold about 11 million copies in their first day of release, setting records.

A rare hardback Bloomsbury first edition of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,’ author-signed with misprint of Joanne Rowling on copyright page, attained $120,000 in November 2019 at Hindman, the second highest price ever paid at auction for Rowling’s work. Photo courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

“The Harry Potter phenomena is credited with many things, such as making reading cool again, but I believe it also introduced a generation to the idea of collecting books,” according to a blog by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. The association notes that, while aimed at young adult readers, the books gained a loyal following from adults as well. As a result, many different covers and editions were issued over time with different illustrations used to appeal to more adult audiences. The cover art illustrations of Thomas Taylor and Mary GrandPré were vastly different yet did much to introduce new audiences to Harry Potter.

This American publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,’ 2000, features a cover illustration by Mary GrandPré. Photo courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

“Where Taylor’s depiction of Harry waiting for the gleaming red Hogwarts’ Express on a smoky platform 9¾ helped visualize the boy with the lightning-shaped scar for audiences of adults and children alike … Grandpré’s cover for the U.S. book was the first to depict the young wizard in action, chasing a Quidditch snitch on his broomstick with the majestic turrets of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the backdrop,” according to an Observer article.

J.K. (Joanne) Rowling published the first of her seven fantasy novels starring Harry Potter in 1997 with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone through British publishing house Bloomsbury. The book was renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by American publisher, Scholastic and in the film series.

AbeBooks has sold many copies of Rowling’s books at robust prices, including a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that sold for $37,000. The bookseller notes that demand has continually stayed high even though the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published more than a decade ago, in 2007. “One simple guideline to collecting Potter books: anything signed by J.K. Rowling has significant financial value. A book signed by one of the illustrators is much less valuable,” according to the website.

A complete set of all seven UK Harry Potter books signed by the author brought $11,000 in April 2016 at Heritage Auctions. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Catherine Payling, director, Books and Prints Department, Quinn’s Auction Galleries in Falls Church, Va., said when collecting investment-grade books, the most important consideration is rarity. “The most valuable book of all is the first British edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It was published by Bloomsbury on June 30, 1997, and only 500 were printed [most reportedly went to libraries],” she said. “Some of those will have been lost over the years, making it even more uncommon. A signed one will be even more valuable since, at the time, J.K. Rowling was not well known and signed a small number of the books.”

Four U.S. editions by Scholastic of Rowling’s Harry Potter. Photo courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

With all the books, wherever printed, the first edition and first printings are worth far more than later print runs, especially the first book, she said. Later titles in the series were published in huge numbers as Rowling’s fame grew exponentially so they are not rare. There are also Book Club editions on the market, which have little value.

Different hardcover editions were issued over the years. “There are signed DeLuxe editions, which have some value, especially the UK editions,” Payling said. “Again, the first editions, first printings, will be most desirable. In this series, The Prisoner of Azkaban is especially rare and commands a higher price—fewer were printed.” Some of the hardcover first-run copies were released before it was noticed that the copyright page said Joanne Rowling not J.K. Rowling so the “Joanne” versions in pristine condition can go for over $10,000, according to AbeBooks.

“As with all things condition is important, since collectors will prefer a book in mint condition over one that has been handled a good deal,” Payling added.

An uncorrected proof copy of a first edition ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ sold for $11,531 at Bamfords Auctioneers & Valuers in May 2019. Photo courtesy of Bamfords Auctioneers & Valuers and LiveAuctioneers

AbeBooks noted that prices for first edition first printings of the Sorcerer’s Stone (American edition) average $4,000 to $5,000 and can fetch up to $6,500. By the second book, Chamber of Secrets, prices for hardcover first edition first printings were going as high as $9,000, with deluxe editions bringing more if signed. As the series went on, Rowling signed fewer books so those with her signature claim robust prices.

For all those collectors who wish they had been gifted with their own admittance letter to Hogwarts, Rowling’s books continue to delight audiences of all ages.