Bought for 38 Cents, Rare Harry Potter Book Could Sell for Thousands

This first-edition copy of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is one of only 500 hardback copies printed

Front and back cover of old Harry Potter book
This first-edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was once in circulation at a library in England. Richard Winterton Auctioneers

Today, Harry Potter is a household name—but the Boy Who Lived wasn’t always so famous. When author J.K. Rowling first started shopping the magical series around to book publishers, she faced rejection after rejection.

Eventually, though, one publishing house—Bloomsbury—agreed to print 500 hardback copies in 1997 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which follows the adventures of an 11-year-old boy with a distinctive scar on his forehead. Of those original copies, 300 went to public libraries. (The title became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when the book was released in the United States in 1998.)

Now, one of those rare first-edition library books is going up for auction—and it could fetch between £3,000 ($3,800) and £5,000 ($6,300), according to Richard Winterton Auctioneers, which is offering up the copy during a sale that begins on July 10.

If the book fetches that much, its owners will make a sizable profit. An unidentified man—a collector who lived in Staffordshire—purchased it for the equivalent of 38 cents from a library in Wolverhampton, England, after it was removed from circulation. Earlier this year, he died unexpectedly at age 55.

This man had started purchasing books and memorabilia when he was still attending school, often scouring church fairs and garage sales for unique finds. Then, he’d either sell the items to second-hand shops or trade them with friends.

His family knew he had a rare Harry Potter book in his collection, but they didn’t know where he kept it. After his death, they hired the auction company to help search through hundreds of boxes of his belongings—and eventually, they found it.

“We knew that he had got the book, but if you asked him to pinpoint it he couldn’t,” says the man’s sister in a statement from the auction house. “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.”

“Now it’s come to light again,” she adds, “we, as a family, are quite excited.”

The book has seen better days, but it’s still considered valuable because of its rarity and Harry Potter’s continued popularity. The auction house settled on the relatively low pre-auction price range because of the book’s “much-loved condition,” but it noted that other specimens have sold for much more at past auctions.

In December 2022, a signed copy of the same book that was never released to the public brought in £8,000 ($10,000). And in March of last year, a first edition that had never been read and was kept out of sunlight for 25 years sold for £69,000 (nearly $90,000).

According to the British broadcaster ITV, the owner of that copy had nearly returned it, believing its dust jacket was missing (he later learned that this edition didn’t come with a dust jacket). But he held onto it, and soon after the purchase, his daughter asked if she could read it. “I said no, absolutely not. Instead, I bought her another copy,” he told ITV.

The book going to auction this month isn’t in such pristine condition, but it still has its library barcode inside, as well as the sale price. It also contains several errors: On the back cover, the letter “o” is missing from the word “philosopher’s.” And on page 53, in a list of school supplies Harry must bring to Hogwarts, the phrase “1 wand” appears twice.

As auctioneer Richard Winterton says in the auction house’s statement, “It has clearly been well-read, which is most befitting of one of the initial run of books which helped fuel the early popularity of Potter—which, of course, rapidly evolved into a global phenomenon.”

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