Harry Potter Collector’s Handbook casts a spell on pop-culture phenomenon

This exclusive excerpt is from the new book Harry Potter Collector’s Handbook by William Silvester (Krause Publications, 2010). Silvester lives in Victoria, British Columbia, and has more than 250 published articles to his credit.

Collecting Harry Potter began on the day the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published – June 26, 1997, according to Bloomsbury. Anyone who bought the book, read it, and decided to keep it had the potential to become a Harry Potter collector.

From that date until 2000, Harry Potter collectors had only early editions of the books to add to their collections. The ardent collector could have added magazine articles, newspaper clippings, or foreign language editions if they felt the need to expand their collections, but there was little else. The deluge of Harry Potter merchandise did not begin until Warner Bros. entered the picture as its contract with J.K. Rowling included control over merchandising.

It is well known that Rowling was not keen on handing control over to Warner Bros., but making films is expensive, and merchandising has become part and parcel of that industry. She did have some say, however, and in an interview with Jeremy Paxman (BBC Newsnight, June 19, 2003), she said, “Twice a year I sit down with Warner Brothers and we have conversations about merchandising … you should have seen some of the stuff that was stopped: Moaning Myrtle lavatory seat alarms and worse.”

The early merchandise, released before the first film was completed, is easily discernable. Warner Bros.’ resident artist, Fred Bode, did the majority of the artwork, and Harry Potter most frequently appeared with a red striped shirt under his black robes rather than the Gryffindor uniform he was to wear in the movies. The other characters as well bore only passing resemblances to the actors who would eventually appear on the screen. Though Bode images would reappear in later years, the majority of merchandise with what I term the “literary” version is pre-film items released in 2000 and 2001. Look for “Warner Bros. © 2000” on the product to ensure it is an authorized item.

So, just how popular is Harry Potter? As reported in the June 1, 2009, issue of License! Global Magazine (“Warner Bros. and the Magic World of Harry Potter” by Tony Lisanto, editor-in-chief), since the release of the first Harry Potter film, Warner Bros. Consumer Products has become the world’s third-largest licensor with $7 billion in total retail sales. This multi-faceted global strategy has expanded beyond the films to video games, museum exhibits, and, in 2010, a theme park attraction, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, at Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Fla.

All of these present new merchandising opportunities, and as the films become darker and the characters older, the focus is shifting from children to an older audience who has grown up with Harry over the past decade. The most popular Harry Potter items after the books seem to be the video games (40 million sold worldwide) and DVDs (125 million sold worldwide).

Initially, for a short time, Harry Potter merchandise was available exclusively through Warner Bros. stores. In the first three years of the new millennium, the property experienced huge growth. ?

Harry Potter is first and foremost about the books. The first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released on June 26, 1997 with a print run of 500 books. Since then the series has sold over 400 million copies and been published in 67 languages (including Latin and ancient Greek). For the purposes of this guide, only three major publishers, Bloomsbury (Great Britain), Raincoast (Canada), and Scholastic (United States) will be considered.

A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is one of the most coveted collectibles in Potterdom. Only 500 were printed, and of those, 300 went to British libraries. An autographed first edition would be the Holy Grail of Potter collecting. How then does one know whether or not they have a first edition? Quite simply by checking the back of the title page. A first edition will have the complete number sequence – 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 (the last number on the right indicates the edition), and the names of the author as “Joanne Rowling” and the cover artist “Thomas Taylor1997” (no space before year). It was also issued without a dust jacket until the third printing.

Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas recently sold a first edition soft cover of this book. A card featuring the front cover art and signed by J. K. Rowling was mounted inside the back cover. Heritage placed an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000 on the book, which sold for $19,120.

First edition Harry Potter books

A first edition hardcover (unsigned) with a starting bid of $25,000 sold for $29,875. In the same auction (June 2009), a complete set of Harry Potter books 1-7, all signed, all first editions (Philosopher’s Stone was a first edition, third printing, the first to have a dust jacket) sold for $9,560. The highest known price paid to date for a Philosopher’s Stone first edition was by a person on the West Coast of the United States who paid $37,000 through AbeBooks.com.

Generally, second and third editions are not desirable to collectors because they’re not first editions and they’re not as rare — there are simply more of them out there. Also, first print runs are usually much smaller, and often happen when the general public has no idea about a book, its author, etc., and well before the book becomes anything close to popular. Therefore, when Bloomsbury printed the first 500 Harry Potter books, very few people in the world knew who J. K. Rowling was. By the time the third edition was printed, millions knew. So, therefore, collectors sought out the first 500, which is a small number to begin with, and even smaller when compared to the number of people who now want the book and the number of people aware of the book and the number of books printed in the subsequent editions.

A book’s value is based on several factors, not all of which apply to every book, but most apply to most books. Basically, a book’s value is determined by its rarity, condition, completeness, importance, reputation, and uniqueness (i.e., signed first editions vs. unsigned). And yes, ultimately, what someone is willing to pay for it at any given time, according to Joe Fay of Heritage Auction Galleries.

In 1998, Scholastic released 30,000 copies of the book in the United States with the altered title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and some of the text Americanized. First editions have the line, “Printed in the U.S.A.23,” the full number line (1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 8 9/9 0/0 01 02), and “First American edition, October 1998.” The dust jacket was done by Mary GrandPre, and the back has a blurb from The Guardian, whereas subsequent editions have a blurb from Publisher’s Weekly.

Autographed copies are available, as Rowling’s first U.S. book tour coincided with the release of Sorcerer’s Stone. A first American edition, first printing sold at auction in October 2009 for $1,792.50.

When Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was issued in 1998, Rowling was very much into book tours and signings, so more signed first editions are available. Therefore, a hardcover first edition will generally go for around $9,000 while soft covers will command three figures. Many ardent American fans bought these editions online when they could not wait for the U.S. version to be released in 1999. The first edition has the full number line down to “1” on the copyright page. It was issued with a dust jacket illustrated by Cliff Wright. This book has covers illustrations matching those on the dust jacket. A signed first edition is worth $1,500 to $1,800.

Scholastic published 250,000 copies of Chamber of Secrets in June 1999. The trade edition first printing has purple-blue covers with an embossed diamond pattern. Watch for the full number line, however, as subsequent editions retained the “First American Edition” line. The dust jacket was again the work of Mary GrandPre (she did the art for all of the books), and the first edition does not have a number on the spine. A signed copy was sold at auction in October [2009] for $956.

The prize to watch for in the hardcover first editions of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the name “Joanne Rowling” appearing on the copyright page. Apparently, when this was discovered, the run was stopped and the name changed to J. K. Rowling before the 500,000 run was finished. Signed copies of this gem have gone for $12,000. The first edition has the full number line down to “1” on the copyright page. It has a dust jacket illustrated by Cliff Wright. The covers match the illustration on the dust jacket. A deluxe edition was issued simultaneously with the trade edition. The author was still doing a lot of tours and signings at this time, and an autographed copy recently sold for $2,100, while a signed first edition deluxe edition copy went for $900.

Rowling did a three-week tour of the United States in October 1999, shortly after the release of the American edition. The first edition of the U.S. trade edition had green covers with an embossed diamond pattern, full number line, “First American Edition,” “October 1999,” and “Printed in the USA 37.”

Reportedly, Scholastic printed 500,000 copies. As before, the “First American Edition” line remained on later editions. Although the edition date is stated as October 1999, the book was actually released in September; the date was pushed up when impatient fans started buying the British version online instead of waiting for the U.S. version to be released. A signed first edition was recently sold for $932 by Heritage Auction Galleries.

Advanced reading copies (ARC) are books sent out to reviewers, bookstores, and magazines three to six months before the official release of the book. These often do not have the final dust cover, format, or binding of the finished book, and the text may also differ. These are not meant for sale and are produced in limited quantities. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the last of the books to be released with an ARC in order to protect the secrecy of the following books. A set of the first three was auctioned by Heritage Auction Galleries in October 2009 and sold for $956. These were marked “Uncorrected Proofs – Not For Sale” on the back cover and contained a letter from the publisher. A single ARC of Sorcerer’s Stone sold for $597 and an ARC of Prisoner of Azkaban sold for $478 at the same auction in October.

By the time Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published in 2000, Rowling did only a four-day tour of England and, therefore, fewer signed books are available. This drives up the price of autographed copies. Although first editions of Goblet of Fire run to over 5 million copies, signed copies command a premium. The initial print run was split between two printers, Clays Ltd. and Omnia Press in Scotland. 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. The book was issued with illustrated covers by Giles Greenfield and a matching dust jacket.

Scholastic learned its lesson this time and released the U.S. version at the same time as the U.K. version. The covers were maroon with an embossed diamond pattern and had a full number line, “First American Edition,” “July 2000,” and “Printed in the USA 56” on the copyright page.

Finally, in June 2003, book five was released in the United Kingdom and the United States. With an initial print run of almost 6.5 million copies in the United States alone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix tops them all for length with 870 pages. It was issued with illustrated covers by Jason Cockcroft, matching the dust jacket. The major signing event was in Edinburgh in 2003, and books from that time are valued in the four-figure range.

By July 2005 and the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, signings were rare, and the few available signed books sell for around $5,000. The print run of over 10 million copies assures that editions of this book will never be of great monetary value. The book was issued with illustrated covers by Jason Cockcroft, matching the dust jacket. Book sales set a record as 9 million copies sold in the first day.

The last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released in July 2007, and every book signed by J. K. Rowling has a holographic sticker of authenticity attached. Again, a huge print run makes this book easily available, with the exception of the hard-to-find signed editions. The Scholastic deluxe edition is a treat for collectors as it includes reproductions of Mary GrandPre’s art, a foil-stamped slipcase, and full-color endpapers with art from the trade edition. In October 2007, after a seven-year absence, Rowling made another North American tour.

The all-time record for sales was broken by this book when 15 million copies were sold the first day. ?

Antique Trader speaks with author William Silvester

Antique Trader: Did your interest in Potter collectibles start with novels or with movies?

William Silvester: I must admit that I was not a Harry Potter fan from the beginning. The first three books had already been written and become phenomenal successes before I joined Potterdom. It was the hype surrounding Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire than drew me into the fold.

A.T.: One of the most impressive aspects of your book is the staggering variety of Harry Potter collectibles available. How does this compare to other fantasy movies?

W.S.: Fantasy and science fiction seem to stimulate the imagination more than most other genre and that may be one reason why they generate so much merchandise. Star Wars, Star Trek and the Wonderful Worlds of Disney all outpace or equal Harry Potter in sheer volume. The remarkable thing about Harry Potter merchandise is that while Disney has been in merchandising since the 1930s, Star Trek since the mid-1960s and Star Wars since the late-1970s, Potter merchandise has only been around since 2000 and yet has produced an incredible amount of paraphernalia.

A.T.: Can your book be considered the most comprehensive resource on Potter collectibles?

W.S.: Absolutely. Not only does the reader see images of most of the items and find out the prices but they also learn the answers to such burning questions as “Why did the manufacturer withdraw the vibrating broom?” and “Why does the Dumbledore action figure have two right arms?”

A.T.: What is the one collectible that perennially emerges as the most valuable?

W.S.: The books. Harry Potter is first and foremost about the books, especially the early editions of the first three books. After that the print runs grew so large that anybody can find earlier editions. In Harry Potter Collector’s Handbook I have gone into collecting the books in detail as I feel it is of primary interest to Harry Potter collectors and one particular area where knowledge of your subject can mean the difference between making a fantastic purchase or being ripped off.

A.T.: Why are Harry Potter collectibles likely to increase in value?

W.S.: To me it is the timeless appeal of the books and movies. There is something for everyone. The same applies to the merchandise, it appeals to all ages and helps to bring the stories to life.

A.T.: Do you find demand for the rare collectibles increasing every year?

W.S.: Potterdom will probably make collectors out of children who might not otherwise have been bitten by the bug and as they grow older and their incomes increase they will expand their collections and possibly branch out into other fields of collecting.

A.T.: How rare is it to find movie props?

W.S.: Due to the fact that they were made in limited amounts, are often unique and were not intended for sale, movie props are very rare. Amongst things Harry Potter there are a number of replica props available made for the sole purpose of selling to collectors but actual props used in the movies are much harder to come by.

A.T.: What are some of your other antiques or collectibles interests?

W.S.: I have been a Disney fan for as long as I can remember and as such have a lot of different kinds of Disney merchandise, more of an accumulation than a collection. Indiana Jones is favorite collecting interest of mine and could be the subject of another collectibles book. I am also a philatelist and a deltiologist with an extensive collection of Disney Theme Park postcards.

A.T.: What are the most accessible collectibles to be found in the world of Harry Potter? (by accessible, I mean, affordable and most plentiful).

W.S.: Most Harry Potter collectors start with the books, all of which are readily available, new and used. Next, the movies, in VHS (harder to find but less desirable because they are an obsolete technology), DVD and Blu-Ray are plentiful and affordable. Video Games are also high on the list of Harry Potter items that are sought after and readily available. After that, many of the action figures, cards, games and so on will not break anybody’s bank.

A.T.: What are some of the collectibles we can expect to see in the coming months with the next few movies? How has the new Orlando, Fla., park affected collectibles?

W.S.: Many of the companies represented in the Harry Potter Collector’s Handbook continue to produce Harry Potter merchandise. For example, Tonner and Gentle Giant are bringing out more dolls and figurines this year, FilmCell and Movieposters.com are keeping up to date with Deathly Hallows releases, LEGO has a new video game and Bloomsbury is releasing all the titles in a series they call “Harry Potter: The Signature Look”. One of the most popular items at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando is the wands. Ollivander’s in the Hogsmeade Village section has a huge selection of them and they are, by all accounts, quite popular. In addition there are pins, t-shirts, butterbear mugs, remembralls, school uniforms, snitches, plushes, keychains, chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, to name a few. The park has opened up a whole new area of Harry Potter collectibles and introduced many former non-collectors to the fun of collecting.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Single cards, 2005: $1-$2 ea.

– Cedric Diggory (dark background)
– Cedric Diggory (misty background)
– Cedric, Harry, Fleur, Viktor
– Cho and Cedric
– Fleur Delacour
– Fleur, Ron, and flying coach
– Harry pointing wand to left
– Harry Potter
– Harry, Fleur, Cedric
– Harry, Fleur, Cedric, Viktor, Ron, Hermione
– Hermione
– Hermione with lake behind
– Hermione with stairs behind
– Hermione, Harry, Ron
– Mad-Eye Moody with darkness behind
– Mad-Eye Moody with wall behind
– Ron in dress robes
– Ron in sweater
– Ron, Fleur (looking forward), and flying coach
– Ron, Fleur (looking right) and flying coach
– Ron, Harry, Hermione
– Ron, Harry, Hermione closer
– Viktor and Hermione with lake behind
– Viktor Krum (facing left)
– Viktor Krum (facing right)


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