With the release of the latest Harry Potter movie, Harry and his friends are back in the lime light. The Harry Potter books are a phenomenon that has rarely been seen in the world. I could venture to say that there are very few books series that have been more read and more loved in our lifetime. More than 400 million copies have been sold worldwide, which is the highest of any book series of all time. Many adults who haven’t read the books can’t quite understand the obsession, but for both kids and adults who have read them, its like a little sparkle comes into their eye if you mention the word. Not only is it a great story, but it got kids really passionate about reading again.
At the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, where we were most recently exhibiting, we had our set of Harry Potter British First Editions, which always gets a great deal of interest.
Many people desire to have a first edition set, but are not aware of the large price tag that these books are commanding. I thought I would take a moment to explain a few key factors when looking for Harry Potter first editions and some issue points for identification purposes.
As most people know, the true first editions of these books came out in Britain, so these are the most highly collectible versions, and I will only be discussing these editions for this post. Since Rowling was an unknown writer, there was extremely limited print run of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. According to the publisher, Bloomsbury, the first printing (or impression) was limited to only 500 copies and many of these went into England’s school libraries (thus many were stamped with library markings). There is some debate as well that the number of hardcover copies was not even this high, but that perhaps there were only around 350 hardcover copies and 150 soft-cover proof editions. In any case, this means that a true first hardcover of the first book is extremely rare and, thus, commands a premium price.
The true first edition has the full number line, down to “1” on the copyright page, and was issued without a dust jacket, with illustrated boards (covers) by Thomas Taylor. This illustration was carried onto a dustwrapper that was issued starting with the third printing. The true first also contains a misprint on page 53 with ‘wand’ appearing twice on Harry’s shopping list for Diagon Alley.
Since the Philosopher’s Stone was well received, the next book in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, had a first printing run of 10,150 copies according to the publisher, Bloomsbury. It has the ‘1’ in the number line. This book was issued with a dust jacket, with both the boards and jacket illustrated by Cliff Wright and has a price of £10.99.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban had a first run of 10,000 copies. The first printing has the full number line with the ‘1’. It also was issued with a jacket and boards designed by Cliff Wright and has the price of £10.99. The first trade edition has a number of points. The first issue states ‘Copyright Joanne Rowling’ on the copyright page, whereas the second issue is amended to ‘J.K. Rowling’. Also on the first page of text (p. 7), there is a misaligned text block with some dropped text. Clays Ltd. is listed as the printer. The speculation is that the errors were discovered early in the print run. Early thought was there were only 500 copies with these errors. It is now assumed that there were actually about 2500 of these copies.
By the time Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was written there quite a Harry Potter following, and the initial print run was 1 million copies. This large print run was split between two print houses, Clays Ltd (750,000) and Omnia Press in Scotland (250,000). All of the first printings state “First Edition”, with no number line, on the copyright page. The copyright holder is listed as J.K. Rowling. This was issued in illustrated boards (covers) with a matching illustrated dustwrapper with a price of £14.99. Illustrations are by Giles Greenfield. This book has some booksellers listing copies with “storyline errors” on pages 503 and 579 that were supposedly corrected during the first print run. These “points of issue” however still exist in at least the seventh printing, so it is doubtful that these are actually errors or misprints.