When it comes to collecting Harry Potter books, the crème de la crème are the exceptionally rare UK hardcover first edition first printings of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone - the 1997 debut book by the then-unknown author, JK Rowling, which had a print run of just 500.
The high-end rare book market is primarily focused on these very hard-to-find books. Of those 500 copies, 300 were distributed to libraries and few of those are considered collectible which has helped increase prices for the remaining 200.
Prices on AbeBooks for first editions range from $40,000 to $55,000 – depending on condition.
The book was published in America as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone after the US publishers strangely decided that a book with ‘philosopher’ in the title would not sell.
The majority of the Philosopher’s first edition first printings are now in the hands of collectors. The rare book business first took notice of Rowling in 1999 when quick-witted speculators began buying up first editions of the Philosopher’s Stone in the hope they would increase in value. The phenomenon took off and so did the prices as collectors, many of them first-time collectors, began picking up the books.
It is possible that the demand for the original Philosopher’s Stone could continue for decades to come. Many buyers of JRR Tolkien’s first editions are people who read his books as a child and became collectors much later in life when they had the financial resources.
Perhaps the most memorable story regarding the first editions of the Philosopher’s Stone comes from a journalist in the UK. Nigel Reynolds is the arts correspondent on the Daily Telegraph and he was persuaded to meet JK Rowling as she attempted to publicize her unknown book.
They met, had coffee, chatted and JK handed over one of the first editions. Nigel said his farewell and headed back to the office where he skimmed through the book and tossed it into the garbage bin – easily the most costly mistake of his career.
In case you have a copy of the Philosopher’s Stone in the attic, the main characteristics of a 1997 first edition first issue are a print line that reads 1 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 and the crediting of "Joanne Rowling," not JK on the title page.