My adventure into buying a Harry Potter book for thousands of dollars! Part 2

Like Superman, Batman, and Wolverine, Harry Potter requires no introduction. In 1997, the first Harry Potter book hit shelves in the United Kingdom. It was an instant smash hit, and twenty-five years later, it is the best-selling book franchise of all time. Over 500,000,000 copies have been sold. There have also been eleven movies and two theme parks based on J.K. Rowling’s books. 

I suspect Harry Potter will be the best-selling fiction book ever. Including in the future. In other words, I doubt there will ever be another book that out-sells it. I’m not going to get into the details of why that might be, but basically, I think the future is going to look very different. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but Harry Potter’s impact on the culture, and especially on the millions of young readers who plunged themselves into the wizarding world, is undeniable. 

As an author myself, particularly as someone who writes a Young Adult Fantasy series (The Castatine Chronicles), I am enormously appreciative of J.K. Rowling. She’s the boss of the entire YA Fantasy category. So, I’m a fan, but also, my kids grew up reading and watching Harry Potter. To me, that’s huge. The books are as good today as they ever were, and so are the movies. 

Naturally, as someone who was once a collector—and as a guy who loves the idea of buying cool things that go up in value—I became curious about Harry Potter 1st editions. My thinking went like this, What’s something popular now that’s rare, and young people are going to appreciate it even more as time goes on? That’s the perfect recipe for investment-grade collectibles. The best answer I could come up with was Harry Potter, and the more I dug into it, the better the idea seemed. At least, the better it seemed in every way except price. I’ll get into that in a minute, but first, let’s talk about the first Harry Potter book. 

In America, Harry Potter was introduced in the novel Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. But that wasn’t the original title. Originally, it was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. As the story goes, when bringing the book to the US, the publisher thought Philosopher sounded less appealing than Sorcerer (Probably a good call). So the name change adds interest to early books, but also, the first run had a few very noticeable errors. On the back cover, philosopher is misspelled, and the copyright page shows Joanne Rowling rather than J.K. Rowling. There are other issues, too, all of which makes 1st editions even more interesting than they would be normally. And they’re rare. There were only 500 hardback editions (or “library editions”) and 5,150 paperbacks. 300 of the pressboard hardback copies went to libraries. As you might imagine, they were well read and hardly any remain in good condition. That left only 200 hardbacks for private sale. There are a lot more paperbacks, but like the library books, people read them, and reread them, and passed them along to their friends, and their friend’s kids. All that is as it should be. Books are made to be read. But collectors care about preserving artifacts, and well preserved first-run Philosopher’s Stone books are few and far between. 

When I first looked for one, my initial reaction was, The ship has sailed. Paperbacks were already $3000 and hardbacks were triple that. Maybe more, I don’t remember exactly. As was the case with Incredible Hulk 181 during most of my comic book collecting years, it was too expensive and not the right time. 

But occasionally, when talking to friends, my ownership of the first Wolverine comic would come up—it makes a good story—and the conversation would lead around to Harry Potter. “You know what I think would be a good investment,” I would say, “the first Harry Potter book.” Then I’d go on to tell them what made the book so special, and even though buying high-end collectibles is outside most people’s wheelhouse, by the time I pitched the idea, the majority of people could see the potential. They weren’t willing to take the plunge themselves, but it didn’t seem entirely crazy. 

The trouble was it kept going up in price. $3000, then $5000, the $8000, and so on. The price disparity between hardbacks and softcovers also increased. When a particularly interesting hardback sold for $80,000, I said, “This is going to be a million-dollar book one day.” 

Today, that very copy is for sale for $800,000. Is there a buyer at that price? I don’t think so. It’s been sitting on the market for a while. But I bet they could find a buyer at $500,000. And, possibly in the not-too-distant future, there will be a buyer at $800,000, and I remain convinced, it will be over a million one day. 

So, the hardbacks are too pricey for me—even though I think they’re good investments—but the paperback? Hmmm.

In the next installment, I’ll discuss the book I purchased—possibly overpaid for, but maybe not—and what it was like importing a rare valuable book into the United States. 

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