Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2008 Issue

Rowling Book Sells For $4 Million

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

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Closing Time, Advance Readers Copy of Uncorrected Proof with a letter from Heller on his personal stationary
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Gates, Bill, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, N Y: Knopf, 2021; first edition, with a handwritten note from Bill Gates
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Catch-22, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961, first edition, first printing, first issue dust jacket, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Heller, Joseph, Something Happened, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974, first edition, inscribed on the front end paper by Heller
    Bid on iGavelAuctions.com: Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, London: John Murray, 1818, in four volumes
  • Manuscript Masterpieces from the Schøyen Collection
    London auction, 11 June
    BROWSE NOW
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Holkham Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, decorated manuscript on vellum [Toledo, 2nd quarter 13th century]. £1,500,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Crosby-Schøyen Codex. In Coptic, manuscript on papyrus [Upper Egypt, middle 3rd century / 4th century]. £2,000,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Geraardsbergen Bible. In Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Southern Netherlands, late 12th century]. £700,000–1,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now : Jean de Courcy (fl. 1420). The Chronique de la Bouquechardiere. In French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1480]. £200,000–300,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The ‘Catherine de Medici’ Hours. In Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1485]. £120,000–180,000
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.

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