Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2008 Issue

Rowling Book Sells For $4 Million

Beedle

Beedle the Bard from the Amazon.com website.


By Michael Stillman

We have come to expect that some books will sell at auction for well beyond their estimates. Sometimes an auction house may not appreciate the book's importance, at other times bidders can simply get caught up in the excitement of the moment. However, what occurred at Sotheby's December 13 was truly astounding. A book, rare (by design), though certainly not antiquarian, sold for forty times the high estimate. That high estimate was no bargain basement price either. Estimated to sell for $60,000-$100,000, a handwritten work by billionaire author J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, sold for an astonishing £1,950,000, or approximately $4 million. If I were her, I'd have my pen in hand right now, writing another, but when you are already a billionaire, who needs another $4 million?

The book's title is Tales of Beedle the Bard. It is not a Harry Potter book, but fits the same mystical, magical genre. Rowling handwrote seven copies of this book, but only one was placed up for sale. The other six are going to unnamed persons associated with the Potter saga. One can only expect that in time, and depending upon the financial needs of the six lucky recipients (who must be overjoyed by the results of this auction), these other six copies will make it to the market. Perhaps some will be offered in the relatively near future, others maybe not until the owners die and ownership falls to their estates. Eventually, the heirs are more likely to want millions in cash than a book to share amongst them.

The winning bidder was also a surprise. It was not a traditional collector or rare book library of some prestigious institution. The winner was bookselling giant Amazon.com. Amazon has undoubtedly made a great deal of money off Ms. Rowling's books, having sold many millions of them. They could afford it. Still, it is not exactly clear why they would spend so much for this book. They are already providing online reviews of the five stories that make up the book, and have created discussion forums. Perhaps the company feels the publicity and traffic to their site it generates will make it a good business decision. With a market cap of some $35 billion, this is small potatoes to Amazon, almost a transfer of funds from a billionaire 35 times over to a poor woman of just a single billion in wealth (actually, Ms. Rowling donated the proceeds to the Children's Voice Campaign, one of her favorite charities). If Amazon had chosen to distribute the $4 million to its shareholders instead of buying Ms. Rowling's book, the dividend would have amounted to a mere penny a share.

There is one mystery that remains to this story. Who were the other bidders? It was reported that there were five bidders in total, and at least one of them must have followed Amazon to the upper $3 millions before throwing in the towel. Who else was willing to pay such an astronomical amount for a book estimated at $60,000-$100,000? Some people have entirely too much money.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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