The Man Who Paid $37,000 for a Harry Potter Book
In August 2005, a gentleman from the west coast of the United States (let’s call him Mr. X) bought a first edition, first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone through AbeBooks.com from a high-end rare book dealer in Europe.
Mr. X paid £20,000.
The UK first edition, first printings of this book are very rare as only 500 were printed and most were lost in the British library system. It is probably the most collectable book from popular literature spanning the past 10 years. Learn more about this very rare edition
To date, £20,000 is the the highest price ever paid for a single Harry Potter book on AbeBooks.
So what kind of person spends that sort of money on that type of book? The simple answer is someone inspired by JK Rowling’s fantasy books but who also has a theory about where prices for first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are going… and that’s only in one direction – up!
“I have followed the whole series, read each one and thoroughly enjoyed them,” said Mr. X. “I had also enjoyed listening to Jim Dale reading the stories (on audio books). It was children that actually turned me on to Harry Potter – I saw them reading the books, and getting really excited about them, and being prepared to stand in line to buy them at midnight.
Mr. X, who is a 66-year-old general contractor in the construction business, is a keen reader but not the type of collector who has a library stretching into thousands of titles.
“I own over 600 books,” he said. “The first editions I own are those by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs was a great read for me as a nine-year-old. I have all of the books in his Mars and Venus series, as well as a complete Pellucidar collection. My Tarzan collection is by no means complete, however.”
So what was the motivation behind this major purchase?
“That’s difficult to say,” Mr. X said. “I had read it and I had looked at the prices on the Internet and I thought it would be a good thing to have. I had thought about buying a US first edition but I finally thought I’d do it because it would be such a good investment. There was an element of fun involved. It’s very hard to explain the feeling of elation when you realize you own this particular book.
“Naturally, I did my research before buying the book. I researched the numbers of the first edition and identified that only 500 were printed and most were sent to libraries where they were more than likely trashed. I also researched the bookseller thoroughly and discovered that they were a member of certain rare bookselling associations and realized they were bound by codes of conduct. They were totally legitimate. There was an element of the unknown because they were on the other side of the world.”
So what now?
“I believe the value will keep growing,” he said. “I don’t think that we will realize a profit from the book in my lifetime but I feel a certain joy in seeing its value increase. In the meantime, the book is well protected and very well insured.”
Mr. X has a theory about the next generation of Harry Potter book collectors.
“I believe there is another factor here,” he said. “The children who have read the books will grow up and some of them will become book collectors – in 50 years time, it will be these people who will want to own rare copies of the books and they will be looking to buy them.”
Mr. X’s theory is already being played out with JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Hobbit in the 1930s and the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the 1950s. Many people who were inspired by Tolkien’s writings in post-war Britain are now keen collectors of his work. A first edition of The Hobbit became the most expensive book ever sold on AbeBooks.com when it was purchased for $65,000 several years ago.
So has he made a sound investment? Mr. X paid £20,000 for a copy which he says is “flawless.” Shortly afterward, one of the world’s most respected rare book dealers in London offered a copy on AbeBooks.com that has “minor rubbing” and a "bumped spine" for ₤20,000..
Would he ever make a book purchase of that magnitude again? “Probably not,” he said.
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