A rare, first-edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – one of just 500 original copies, of which 300 were destined for British libraries – set a world record when it sold for $81,250 during Heritage Auctions’ offering of rare books Sept. 14 in Dallas. Frenzied bidding pushed numerous lots well past their pre-auction estimates, propelling the total sales in the event to nearly $2 million.
“We are very pleased with the performance of Genre fiction in our auction, continuing on our earlier successes in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery and Detective Literature,” Heritage Auctions Rare Books Director James Gannon said. “Heritage is extremely strong in presenting and marketing these books, and by now we have the attention of the rare book market and a large following of enthusiastic bidders.”
A swarm of bidders pursued the first edition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone until it more than quadrupled its pre-auction estimate before finally hammering at $81,250. Presented as originally sold, without a dust jacket, the volume also set the world record for the highest price paid for an unsigned work of fiction published in the last 50 years.
“We have sold great Harry Potter titles – not to mention chairs – in the past, but we never really paid attention to such a thing as a world record,” Gannon said. “This recent copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone surpassed the earlier record of approximately $60,000 by more than 30 percent. It very well may be the highest price obtained at auction for any unsigned work of literature published in the past 50 years.”
A first edition of History of the Indian Tribes of North America by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall climbed to $66,250. The work is now famous for its color plate portraits of the chiefs, warriors and squaws of the various tribes; the original paintings were destroyed in the Smithsonian fire of 1865, so their appearance in this work preserves the only known likeness of many of the most prominent Indian leaders of the early 19th century.
Another lot that far exceeded expectations was a John James Audubon [Robert Havell, engraver] Original Copper Printing Plate, and John James Audubon Brown Creeper, Certhia Familiaris, and California Nuthatch, Sitta Pygmea drew $62,500 – more than six times the pre-auction estimate. The Birds of America was published between 1827 and 1838 in London, after which many of the plates were sold for scrap or melted down. This plate is believed to be one of 78 still extant, from the original 397.
A 1919 first edition of T.S. Eliot’s Ara Vos Prec (The Ovid Press) is another lot that sparked furious competition among 13 bidders until it climbed all the way to $57,500 – more than 11 times its pre-auction estimate. One of just four presentation copies printed on Japan vellum, this copy is not numbered, and is inscribed by Eliot on the half-title: “for my mother / Charlotte C. Eliot / T.S. Eliot.”
“The crystal-clear provenance on the T.S. Eliot material helped these lots to far exceed their estimates,” Gannon said. “Coming directly from his family is really the very definition of ‘fresh to market’ and it is more accurate to say ‘never to market’ before.”
A 1929 first edition of Red Harvest, the first book written by Dashiell Hammett, was offered in its rare, original color-printed dust jacket, which was totally unrestored. Bidders pushed the auction price to $50,625. The lot was the premier offering from the KoKo Collection, the most substantial collection of mystery and detective literature ever offered by Heritage Auctions.
Other top lots included, but were not limited to:
- Hartmann Schedel’s 1493 Liber cronicarum cum figuris et ymaginibus from The Nuremberg Chronicle: $50,000
- A 1926 first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: $25,000
- Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes [In The All-Story, Vol. XXIV, No. 2]: $28,750
- John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, From Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories: $28,750
- A 1937 first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Or There and Back Again: $28,750