DALLAS – Before the Harry Potter series became one of the most popular of all time, the debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was rejected by a dozen publishers.
But Bloomsbury Publishing took a chance on J.K. Rowling's book and printed 500 hardcover copies. One of these first editions just sold at Heritage Auctions for a world-record $471,000, making it the highest price ever paid for the boy wizard’s debut in any form.
“And not only is the most expensive Harry Potter book ever sold, it’s the most expensive commercially published 20th-century work of fiction ever sold,” says Heritage Auctions Executive Vice President Joe Maddalena. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was brought to life on the big screen two decades ago, and this result shows the power of that combination of literature and cinema. These books are being rewarded for the results of their films.”
The opening bid for Philosopher's Stone, later released in print and on film as the Sorcerer's Stone, was $75,000 and within a few minutes, heated bidding propelled it to its record price. The auction house noted that it was bought by an anonymous collector from the Midwest.
The Harry Potter books eventually took off, but those initial 500 copies have been hard to come by. Only a few have surfaced in auctions, according to Heritage, and those have become among the most coveted titles in modern literature, with two others selling in 2021 for more than $138,000.
But Thursday’s sale shattered all previous records. Live bidding opened at $75,000, but heated bidding drove the price higher and higher. And when the final sale price was announced, the auction room erupted with applause. You can watch the action unfold in this brief YouTube video:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was but one star in Heritage Auctions’ Firsts Into Film session on December 9 to kick-off the auction house’s two-day rare books event. Heritage offered 138 lots from a single collector who loved these movies first, then tracked down extraordinary copies of the original novels – each, among the best available.
The first session of the Rare Books Signature® Auction featured 69 first editions adapted for the big and small screens. Those offerings alone surpassed the $1.375-million mark.
That tally includes The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, published between 1954 and 1955 – which shattered its previous auction record when it sold for $103,125. Even before live bidding began, the collection – in stunning condition, from the dust jackets to the pristine pages – had topped an auction record set 20 years ago. Precious, indeed. All seven of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia titles also sold in a single lot – each a first edition with original, unrestored dust jackets and every book signed by illustrator Pauline Baynes, who also collaborated with Tolkien. An assemblage like this is not likely to be seen again for a long time, which explains its final price of $100,000.
Superstars abounded throughout the event, including Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, published in 1930 and one of the greatest crime novels ever written. A first edition of the book that helped make a star of Humphrey Bogart is a classic in its own right and sold for $47,500.
Another beloved Brit’s bow also approached its auction record, when 1953’s Casino Royale, sold for $42,500, the second-highest price ever paid for an unsigned copy of the landmark book. The book is in “gorgeous shape,” says James Gannon, Heritage Auctions' Director of Rare Books, and was owned by someone who “didn't just hide it on a shelf but understood its literary significance and kept the first-issue blue dust jacket – notoriously susceptible to sunning – both bright and beautiful, while still enjoying the book.”
A full release with additional sales highlights can be found here.