Last week, the media reported on a Harry Potter novel that sold at auction for £28,500. It was purchased in a library stock clearance sale twenty years ago for just… £1! The owner did not even realise that they had a valuable first edition until an auctioneer came to their home to appraise some other books.
It’s every book auctioneer’s dream to spot a first-edition Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. When Bloomsbury first published the book in 1997, the initial print run was just 500 copies, with 300 of those being distributed to libraries and schools in the UK. The first edition is recognisable by the author’s name given in full (Joanne Rowling), and by two errors in the text: ‘philospher’s’ on the back page, and ‘1 wand’ listed twice in a list of equipment on page 53. These first editions are very coveted and so valuable; back in March, a copy in good condition fetched £68,812 at auction in London.
First editions of classic works sell for handsome prices. On AbeBooks.com, a first edition of A Christmas Carol is currently on sale for £20,144.85 and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will cost you £39,467.46. But even those are rather modest sums compared to the Jane Eyre first edition for sale at £102,779.83, and The Great Gatsby for which you’ll pay £287,783.53. And last but definitely not least is the 1535 Coverdale Bible, the first edition of the very first Bible to be printed in English, yours for £489,232!
In fact, the Gutenberg Bible, printed by Johannes Gutenberg on his press back in the 1450s, is more valuable. Only 48 first editions remain today, and the last time one was sold it fetched £4.4 million. But most expensive of all is the St. Cuthbert Gospel, which is one of earliest bound books in the West to have survived, dating back to the eighth century. It was sold in 2012 for £8.8 million to the British Library.
Shakespeare’s First Folio, published in 1623, sold for £5.1 million in 2001. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer fetched £4.6 million in 1998. Rare books, then, are certainly an expensive market, and that makes it exciting for collectors and auction houses. I can just imagine how thrilling it must have been for the auctioneer who found the Harry Potter first edition. What a wonderful job his must be.
Which makes me think… what a fascinating and exciting job for a hero or heroine. Inspiration for a forthcoming novel, perhaps?