Harry Potter first edition set to cast magic

A hugely valuable Harry Potter first edition  – found in a bargain bucket in the Scottish Highlands – is set to make tens of thousands of pounds at auction. 

The hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, from the first Potter book print run in 1997, cost a tenner 26 years ago. It has been kept in a cupboard under the stairs for years, just like the young Harry Potter who famously lived in a cupboard under the stairs in the Dursley’s house.  

Hansons books expert Jim Spencer with a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The forgotten treasure is set to go under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers on December 11 with an estimate of £40,000-£60,000. And interest is expected to be high as the book is one of only 200 distributed to shops from the first print run. The seller, a 58-year-old Scottish woman, learned about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone after reading one of the first ever interviews with its author, J K Rowling, in The Scotsman newspaper in the late 1990s. 

The recently retired third sector manager said: “I bought the Harry Potter book before anyone really knew much about it, or the author. I found it during a family caravan trip touring round the highlands of Scotland. I was delighted to discover a bookshop café on an isolated peninsula after driving miles on a single-track road in the north-west of Scotland.  

I recognised the distinctive book cover straight away. The book seller had placed it in a wickerbargain bucket’ basket on the floor. Because it had no dust jacket, I got a couple of pounds knocked off the price. Our two children enjoyed the wizard tale as a bedtime story all through that holiday in 1997.” 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone first edition

It was a canny move. The first print run of the famous book featured only 500 hardback copies. According to Hansons, they are the rarest and most prized Potter books, the holy grail for collectors. They represent the start of the worldwide Harry Potter phenomenon. The vendor, who lives just north of Edinburgh where J K Rowling wrote the first Potter book, said: “My  children read something online years back about how to identify first editions and told me they thought we had one of them. 

“But I said the edition was worthless due to it having no dust jacket. Some time later I learned the book was never released with a dust jacket. At that point, we stored the book away. It lived like the young Harry Potter did, in the cupboard under the stairs. 

“I forgot about it for a long time but then read about the rarity of first editions. I decided to contact Jim Spencer, the Harry Potter books expert at Hansons Auctioneers. I wanted to authenticate my copy and find out what it might be worth. My children are grown up now and its time for someone else to have the pleasure of owning a rare piece of literary history.”

Jim Spencer, a world-renowned expert on Potter finds, said:  “These first issues are getting harder and harder to find. This must be one of the few remaining copies that’s been in private hands since it was purchased in 1997.  

It’s a genuine, honest copy – and a fantastically well-preserved example. This hasn’t been paraded around salerooms or rare book fairs or been restored. It’s fresh to market and it deserves to go full steam like the Hogwart’s Express. Of the 500 first issue hardbacks printed, 300 went to schools and libraries in order to reach a bigger audience. This is one of the even scarcer 200 that went to bookshops.  

Even more astonishingly, this one ended up on a remote Scottish peninsula, and it was all down to an article in The Scotsman – and perhaps a dusting of magic – that encouraged the inquisitive and very lucky buyer to pluck it from the bargain bin.  

Most examples are quite badly worn, especially ex-library copies. They’ve often been shared among friends and carried around in school rucksacks, which in some ways is lovely, capturing the buzz of Harry Potter when it first gained popularity. However, more traditional collectors are incredibly fussy about condition, and this could hardly be better. This will be an incredibly exciting offering at auction, especially if someone with deep pockets wants to buy it as the ultimate Christmas present.” 

This is the 19th hardback Philosopher’s Stone first edition out of the original 500 discovered by Jim Spencer. They have sold at auction for between £17,500 and £69,000, plus buyer’s premium, dependent on condition. He has also uncovered numerous paperback first issues which have achieved as much as £8,500.