Most valuable gift ever! But family’s Harry Potter first edition could have made splash in the BATH

Posted on 25/01/2021 in Press Coverage

A rare Harry Potter first edition given to a family more than 20 years ago has turned into the most valuable present they have ever received.

But it could have been a soggy story. Two decades ago, the children, then aged seven and four, liked to read in the bath. When they recently discovered the family’s hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was one of only 500 in the first print-run in 1997, they were relieved they’d never dropped it in the water.

The books are so sought after they can sell for tens of thousands of pounds at auction and this copy is expected to stir international interest when it goes under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers on April 7 with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000.

It’s the ninth Philosopher’s Stone hardback copy Hansons has unearthed in a magical 18 months and hammer prices have ranged from £17,500 to £68,000, dependant on condition. Of the 500 books published by Bloomsbury 25 years ago, 300 went to schools and libraries and 200 to book shops.

Jim Spencer, head of Hansons’ Library Department, said: “Finding another first issue hardback of the 500 originally published is really special. I’m honoured to be handling these, and I share the excitement of every vendor. I receive hundreds of emails and calls from hopeful owners of Harry Potters all over the world, so it’s a little tougher having to let most people down gently - but I check every enquiry, respond to every person, because it’s like panning for gold!

“When it was given as gift all those years ago no-one knew Harry Potter would turn into a worldwide phenomenon. The buyer unwittingly purchased a first edition, destined to be worth thousands of pounds decades later, as a gift. It’s lovely for the family. They had no idea their bookshelf contained something so special until recently.”

The seller, a 68-year-old retired civil servant, said: “The book was a present. As it turns out, it is the most valuable present we have ever been given. In 1997 we were living abroad on a Foreign Office posting. It wasn’t the other side of the world but, in a country with an esoteric language and not the strongest historical ties with the UK, opportunities for children to find English language books were few. So, when this book turned up from Yorkshire it was a rare thing - a novel-length children’s book with an intriguing storyline. It drew us in.

“Our son was seven and our daughter four at the time. We had a family reading of it on holiday, a chapter at a time each evening before bed.It was the start of a mini-tradition. The Harry Potter books tended to be published just before the summer holidays so we took one away with us for several years and read it together. Of course, the children soon wanted to read for themselves and our copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is not only well travelled but well read.

“It could have had a different kind of adventure, though, because our children like to read in the bath and when our son heard our copy was a first edition, he said he was glad he had never dropped it in the bathwater. They don’t get that habit from their dad I hasten to add.

“Since that posting abroad, the copy has been read from time to time but for most of the last 20 years has been in our general collection of books, first in a line of all seven in the Potter series, at home just outside London.

“We have always hoarded children’s books that were either very good or much loved and still have quite a few in the loft.But the Potter books were not just for children. And they were exceptional in their evolving detail and cleverness. So, they are on our shelves waiting to be read again.

“When the sale of a first edition of this book made the news some years ago, it did flash through my mind that we had an early copy. But actually having a rare book is something that just doesn’t happen to you, you tend to think, and I didn’t have a clue what to look for anyway.It’s like a stamp with a print error, or a rare stamping of a coin.Why would you know?

“It was only when an article about Jim Spencer, Hansons and their successful sales appeared on the BBC website with a description of what to look for that I thought it might be worth a look, if only to stop me wondering.

'When I heard the estimate it took a moment to digest - several actually!'

“I thought of Gandalf - with whom I share no attributes whatsoever - when he tells Frodo that he has just begun to wonder about the ring - for ring read book.So, I snuck off on my own to have a look. And to my amazement point after point confirmed it was a first edition.I asked my wife to check it for herself. And then I asked our children if they minded my contacting Hansons. The copy, as well as the story, is part of their childhood after all. And they were fine with the idea.

“I contacted Hansons and owner, Charles Hanson, wrote back and asked for more detail. I sent photographs and Charles rang straight back and gave me an estimated sale value at auction. It took a moment to digest. Several actually.

“We love books but do not collect rare or first editions. It’s a wonderful thing that some people do. While this is not just another book to us, for the reasons I have mentioned it should belong to someone who will really appreciate its rarity. I suppose we could keep it as an investment but, in a way, having something of this value around the house, now we know what it is, wouldn’t feel comfortable. We might be afraid to read it.”

The book is due to be sold on April 7 in The Hogwarts Auction. To find out more or arrange a free book valuation, email [email protected].