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If you’re a fan of all things Hogwarts and Harry Potter then you’ve probably seen all the movies and read all the books. The chocolate frogs, striped scarves, and magic wands may have also proved to be irresistible as well. You may have even gone to one of the theme parks or experiences that feature the characters from the books and films. But, no matter how many hours you’ve spent reading the books and dreaming of real butterbeer, you’ve probably never seen a first edition of the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. One of these rare specimens recently sold at auction and broke a record for in the world of book collecting.

Hogwart's Express bridge Glenfinnan Viaduct
Via: Roland Lösslein/Unsplash

First editions can be very expensive and this is particularly true of older books that may be out of print. But, this isn’t usually the case for newer first editions since the high numbers of books produced in each edition make them less rare. So is it just the fame of the Harry Potter novels that drove the price up on this one book? Or was it something else? As it turns out there really weren’t very many of the first editions produced and the reason why is shocking.

At the time that JK Rowling first landed her publishing deal with Bloomsbury the publisher wasn’t so sure about the book. The fantasy story wasn’t a guaranteed success. In fact many thought it might be a complete flop and so dozens of publishers had already said “no” to Rowling before she approached Bloomsbury. As a safety measure to limit cost should the book fail Bloomsbury only printed 500 copies. To put that into perspective there were 2,000 copies printed of the first edition of Emma by Jane Austen in 1815.

Harry Potter books
Via: Madalyn Cox/Unsplash

It’s hard to imagine a world without Harry Potter today, but apparently some never believed that the simultaneously goofy and scary story would become a 20th century classic. It was later printed in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The rare book sold through Texas-based Heritage Auctions on December 9th, 2021, for $471,000 (including buyer’s premium) after a “protracted round of heated bidding”. This is a record for a Harry Potter book, but it’s also a record high price for any commercially-printed 20th century book.

Observers will note that the illustration on the front and the branding is much different to how we think of the franchise today. The books had yet to become classics and the publishers had clearly not found that special Harry Potter branding that the franchise is known for today.

The auction was part of a larger sale titled, Firsts Into Film, which featured first editions of books that later went on to become movies. Works by JR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Jane Austen were included in the 520 lots of the sale. The sterling collection belonged to late screenwriter and playwright, William Goldman. He was the writer behind such beloved films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Stepford Wives, and A Bridge Too Far.

Goldman also authored the book and the screenplay for The Princess Bride, now a cult classic.