If there was any doubt that books are now participating in the incredible price growth experienced by other collectibles, that doubt was put to rest at Heritage Auctions last month. We have seen unprecedented price rises in other forms of collectible paper, from baseball cards to comic books this past year. They have sold for prices in the millions. Even these were dwarfed by the astounding price reached for a copy of the first printing of the U. S. Constitution which sold for over $43 million at auction in November. Still, it wasn't quite as clear that traditional books were participating in the extraordinary excitement surrounding collectibles this year.
Fear no more. A first edition of the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, sold for almost half a million dollars at Heritage Auctions in Dallas on December 9, 2021. The final price all in was $471,000. Heritage described it as not only a record price for a Harry Potter book, but as a world record for modern literature. Harry is only 23 years old.
Certainly, Harry has been no slouch when it comes to price of late. His incredible popularity, first in books and then as a movie, is remarkable. Introduced to the world in 1997, he has become a sensation unlike anything else in the book world in a long time. First edition copies have been selling for six figures as far back as 2017, but those were unique copies, signed or inscribed by author J. K. Rowling. It wasn't until 2021 that we saw first editions without such special attributes sell for six figures.
Earlier in 2021, four copies achieved six figures. Two sold for approximately $138,000 in U.S. dollars, one in British pounds for a U.S. equivalent practically the same, and another for an equivalent slightly less. Heritage was likely being a bit conservative when they put an estimated price on this copy of $50,000 - $70,000. Still, $471,000 must have been a great surprise to most. That is over three times what it was bringing just a little earlier in the year. This copy does not appear to be significantly different from the copies that sold for $138,000. The paper collectibles market is on fire right now and this is just one more example of what is happening.
First editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, even in this, the hardback edition, aren't extremely rare. It was published in 500 copies. What is rare are copies in such pristine condition as those that have sold for six figures. Most of the first edition copies were sent to libraries, and books handled by children and with library stamps are not the ideal condition you want for a collectible book. One such copy sold for about $70,000 in 2021. It is believed around 200 copies went to private collectors rather than libraries. Undoubtedly, many of these were handled by children too. It is not known how many copies in such fine condition are still in existence.