Happy 20th anniversary of Harry Potter! It's hard to believe it has only been twenty years as the characters have become such a large part of popular culture, but the first Harry Potter book was published twenty years ago, today!
A lot of people now collect J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. In fact, the major book collectors of tomorrow will likely bond over their memories of midnight-release parties and argue the merits of Mary GrandPré versus Thomas Taylor’s cover illustrations.
My own book shelves host two complete sets, one American (hardcover) and one British (paperback), and one set-in-progress (the illustrated editions). My children are lobbying for the addition of a set of the new American paperbacks, illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi, because the spines of each form an image of Hogwarts Castle when displayed in sequence (known as a "linked-spine binding"). Naturally, the hardcovers are no longer in great shape, having been read by every family member multiple times, but replacing them with pristine copies is stangely unappealing. It's in-part their hard-earned imperfections that make these books so beloved by us.
The Harry Potter phenomen is credited with many things, such as making reading cool again, but I believe it also introduced a generation to the idea of collecting books. The curious thing is, these young collectors may not use the word collector to describe themselves. These days people refer to themselves as fans of X, Y, or Z. They express their allegiance in online memes and label themselves as being on one "team" or another of their particular fandom. Twilight fans (“Twihards”) were Team Jacob or Team Edward, Hunger Games fans align with Team Peeta or Team Gale, and Pokemon Go players must choose between teams Mystic, Instinct, and Valor as they progress through the game. But however they choose to refer to themselves, people are collecting books, cards, stickers, and toys related to their favorite fandoms with gusto.
New York: Scholastic Press, 1998. First American edition, later printing of the first book in the Harry Potter series. Octavo, original half cloth, illustrated by Mary Grandpre. Boldly signed by J.K. Rowling on the title page. Fine in a near fine dust jacket with light shelfwear. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first novel in the Harry Potter series and J. K. Rowling's debut novel, first published in 1997 by Bloomsbury. The writing has been compared to that of Jane Austen, one of Rowling's favourite authors, or Roald Dahl, whose works dominated children's stories before the appearance of Harry Potter, and of the Ancient Greek story-teller Homer. It has been translated into several languages and has been made into a feature-length film of the same name. (Offered by Raptis Rare Books)
One of the attractions of the Harry Potter books — besides the fact that these are excellent stories that fans love to re-read — is the many different covers and editions available. Over time, the books were released in two sets of covers in the UK (the familiar cartoon illustrations of Thomas Taylor, and more sober designs for “adult” readers who felt a bit silly about reading “children’s” books, despite the rather obvious fact that most other adults were already reading them, and after the series finished new editions of the books were published in many countries with brand new illustrations.
American versus British English
A curious difference between the British and American editions is that the words, as is usually the case, were Americanized (most-notoriously, the title of the first book) and the spelling of some common words were changed. But not all the changes were so obviously justified. In the British editions, the head of the Ministry of Magic is referred to as the Minster for Magic, but in the American edition, the position becomes the Mister of Magic. Similarly, the Divination teacher’s name is Sybill in the UK and Sibyll in the US.
Some people get a kick out of spotting the Britishisms, although if you don’t have the time or inclination to compare editions yourself there’s a great crowd-sourced list of the differences in each of the books online…
London: Bloomsbury. 1999-2007. The first printings of the deluxe editions of the (at the time) full Harry Potter series. Clothbound with pictorial onlays, all edges gilt; fine without dust jackets, as issued. The Azkaban, which was the first volume published in a British deluxe edition (Philosopher's Stone and Chamber being issued in a deluxe edition retroactively) had the smallest printing, (reportedly 7000 copies) and names "Joanne Rowling" rather than "J.K. Rowling" on the copyright page. Here together with the collector's edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard [London: Children's High Level Group, 2008]. The leatherbound Beedle is in a drawstring bag, which, with ten illustrations by Rowling, are housed together in a large box made to look like a textbook, which is contained in the publisher's sleeve. Also included is the Sotheby's catalog for the auction of one of seven copies of the manuscript of Beedle the Bard, with an introduction by Rowling. Since the time of the last deluxe edition's release, the Harry Potter franchise has expanded with the completion of the 8-film series (with an additional three-movie prequel having debuted in 2016); original Rowling content on the Pottermore website; two Wizarding World theme parks; and a two-part stage play sequel (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), which premiered in London, the script of which was released as the eighth book in the series. First Edition. Hardcover. Fine. (Offered by Ken Lopez, Bookseller)
Rowling’s outsize success means that first editions of her later novels, which were printed in huge runs, are never going to be rare (and hence more expensive), but her relative lack of public appearances (as it quickly became too difficult logistically to send her on a conventional author tour) means that books bearing her signature are must-less common, and thus highly sought after.
The first three Harry Potter Books came out in Great Britain long before they were published in the United States. Book one was published on June 26, 1997, and the American edition did not arrive until September 1, 1998. Book two was published in the UK on July 2, 1998, and in the US on June 2, 1999. By the third book, American publishers were very conscious that many fans in the U.S. were simply ordering the U.K. editions rather than waiting, and they reduced the gap to three months, with the British edition being published on July 8, 1999, and the American following on September 8, 1999. Thereafter, the books were published simultaneously in all major markets.
As J.K. Rowling is a resident of the U.K., the true first editions are considered the British editions, even when the editions were published simultaneously.
True first editions of the first Harry Potter book (Philosopher’s Stone) are scarce! There were only 500 hardback copies of the first edition published by Bloomsbury, and of these 300 copies were sold to libraries. The remaining 200 copies were used as review copies for media. Stories circulate of journalists who tossed the book in the trash, thinking it just another undistinguished children’s book. How wrong they were.
Those first editions also had a minor misprint: “1 wand” being listed twice in the list of required school supplies for first years on page 53. The error was corrected in subsequent printings. You can’t fail to have seen the flurry of slightly hysterical articles about this typo earlier this summer, when one copy came up for auction.
A true first edition of Philosopher’s Stone is the Holy Grail/Ditto/Blue Snaggletooth (pick your favorite metaphor depending on what else you collect) for Harry Potter collectors. To find one that wasn’t part of a library’s collection is rare, to find one signed, rarer still. Note: the first edition was a hardcover without dust jacket. The third printing of Philosopher’s Stone added a dust jacket.
The first few books received relatively small print runs in the UK, but they kept being reprinted as the Harry Potter phenomenon gathered speed. First printings are, or course, the most conventionally desirable. Venerable British antiquarian booksellers Peter Harrington Books made a helpful video that lets those of us who can only dream about owning a first edition of Philosopher's Stone see the Holy Grail itself, and explains the points that distinguish the true first edition.
The American editions received larger print runs, although still small compared to the last few books in the series. There are still some quirks that distinguish early American editions.
The first state of the re-named Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone carried a quote from the British newspaper The Guardian on the back cover. This was soon replaced by a quote from Publishers’s Weekly (the Bible of the U.S. book trade). Originally, neither the spine of the book nor the dust jacket carried a number indicating series order. At some point, this series number was added, and from the third book in the series onwards the number was printed on both the dust jacket and the book’s spine (for U.S. editions). I have a later printing of the first book where no number appears on the jacket, but it is printed on the spine of the book, and a second printing of The Chamber of Secrets first American edition with no numbers at all; but these are only curiosities, and not particularly valuable.
The changing design of the books means that those of us who purchased and read the books as they were first being published will have a set of hardcovers that is not quite regular in appearance, with the early books not bearing numbers and the later all having a series number printed on the dust jacket. Still it could be worse; a pet peeve of mine is when a publisher radically changes the cover design of a series part-way through. It’s usually done as something of a “Hail Mary” when a series’ sales are much lower than expected, but the publisher has already contracted for several more books. (American fans of Terry Pratchett endured several uninspiring cover designs before his Discworld series finally began to gain traction stateside with The Fifth Elephant in 2000. Of course, the fact that the British editions had long enjoyed iconic covers probably resulted in many American Pratchett fans simply ordering the British editions instead of waiting for the uninspired US versions, even though that was a little more challenging in the pre-internet days.)
London: Little Brown, 2016. First edition, later printing. Octavo, original boards. Signed by J.K. Rowling on the title page. Included is a photograph of J.K. Rowling signing this copy at the premier. Rare signed. Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. (Offered by Raptis Rare Books)
Book Club Editions
In the UK, copies sold through book clubs are easily identified by the words “Ted Smart” appearing in place of the Bloomsbury colophon on the spine. The books are very similar to the regular Bloomsbury editions in all other respects, but should not be confused with genuine first editions.
In the US, copies sold through the Scholastic Book Club or school book fairs did not have the same embossed foil on the words Harry Potter, among other differences.
Advance Review Copies
In the UK, “preview” copies distributed to the trade are called proof copies, and in the US are known are Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). The print runs for both were very small, and if you come across one in good condition they are both fascinating — as they contain notes about the marketing plan before it was an international hit.
London: Bloomsbury. 2003. First. British four book set containing two adult first editions and two children's first editions and four sets of bookmarks, bookplates, do not disturb signs, and stickers. Packaged in an open top box and wrapped in plastic. Near fine with some wear to the plastic and one moderately bumped corner presumably affecting one of the books. A title printed into the millions but a set that is particularly difficult to find. (Offered by Between the Covers Rare Books)
Foreign Language Editions
Being wildly popular, the Harry Potter books have been translated into many of the world’s languages, and some collectors enjoy building up a collection of the different translations. The different cover designs are reason enough for add at least some foreign language editions to your collection. One Harry Potter collector has set himself the goal of acquiring copies of all the translations of the books, and at the time of writing appears to be close to achieving this…
There are many different points that determine if a book is a true first state or not. The Potter Collector website linked above is a great resource, as is Peter harrington's video, although there’s no substitute for professional experience, and anyone who believes they own or are about to purchase a first edition of any of the Harry Potter books should seek professional assistance and advice from an ABAA member. (Don't for example, confuse a book club edition published by Ted Smart for a first edition published by Bloomsbury!)
A word of caution regarding websites that claim to list all known points for any book, not just the Harry Potters. Book dealers build up a enormous body of knowledge about their chosen specialities. Some choose not to share or publish that knowledge; after all, in a business where your expertise is your competitive advantage, why give that advantage away for free? So, while those websites are generally useful places to start to acquire your own knowledge, they are highly unlikely to be the last word on the subject.
Why not visit a rare book fair and meet some ABAA members who share an interest in Harry Potter or any other area you collect? Book dealers are always happy to meet collectors and chat about your areas of interest. Develop a good relationship with some dealers and they may even call you first when a book you're interested comes into their hands.
Beware fake signatures!
Like any popular author, there is always a risk of fake signatures being added to Harry Potter books listed on unregulated online marketplaces — and so-called “Certificates-of-Authenticity” are generally not worth the paper they’re printed on when the seller issuing them is no more than an anonymous username on eBay. ABAA members guarantee the authenticity of what they sell, and many are also qualified appraisers, who can authenticate books and signatures. The bottom line is, be wary of buying anything sight-unseen, and seek professional assistance if you are looking to purchase expensive signed or first editions of Harry Potter or any other books.
Selected items from ABAA-members' inventory....
London: Bloomsbury, 1999. First Deluxe Edition, first prnt. Cover art by Thomas Taylor. Issued without dustjacket. All edges gilt, satin pagemarker. Printed by Clay's, Ltd. Unread copy in Fine condition. (Offered by Revere Books)
A near fine first UK edition (so stated on the copyright page) in a near fine dust jacket, signed by J. K. Rowling on the dedication page. (Offered by Bookbid Rare Books)
Boston: National Braille Press. 1999. First American Braille edition. Five volumes. Quartos. Stapled pictorial wrappers. Near fine with scattered light wear and two sets of staple holes on the front wrap of the first volume. The scarce Braille edition of the second book in the Harry Potter series, sporting the Mary GrandPre cover art. (Offered by Between the Covers Rare Books)
London: Bloomsbury, 2005. First edition. Octavo, original illustrated boards. Signed by J.K. Rowling on the title page. Some light dampstaining to the bottom few pages, near fine in a near fine dust jacket. (Offered by Raptis Rare Books)