What's Your Harry Potter Worth?

The Collectible Harry Potter

Over 300 million copies of the Harry Potter series have been sold world wide. Each new book, when it was released, toppled sales records on the first day of sales (the later books selling 5-9 million copies in one day). And now, some of J.K. Rowling's signed first editions are being listed for $4k and $5k on Abe Books. What about those unsigned books, you may ask? Those are listing anywhere from $100-$1,000.

It's certainly enough to make you wonder how much that HP on the shelf is worth. But how do you know if it's a valuable one?

The Online Guide for Rare Book Collectors tells us that the early U.K. editions are the most valuable, since they were published first. BUT if you are lucky enough to own even a paperback first edition of The Sorcerer's Stone, you could be pleasantly surprised (they've been known to list for up to $70, in fine condition* - not bad for a paperback). So, how do you know if it's a first edition?

The easiest way is to open it up to the copyright page and see if it states "First Edition." If you have a hard cover copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone that was published in the U.S., it should state, at the very bottom of the page, "First American Edition October 1998." If so, you may (underscore 'may') have a valuable book on your hands. But Wait...

Check the Print Run

Unfortunately, it's not enough for this particular book to state "First American Edition" because many of the later printings AND book club editions make that same statement.

Just above that 'First American Edition' statement it should say "Printed in the U.S.A. 23" (For the hard cover). This let's us know in what region the book was printed. Later printings will have a different number (because they were printed in a different region).

Above that, there is a number line. These numbers indicate the print run. If you see a full number line (1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2    8 9/9 0/0 01 02) - that means it's a first print/first edition. If, say, it looks like this: 5 7 9 10 8 6 4    8 9/9 0/0 01 02, then you (like me) have a fourth print/first edition, because the numbers 1, 2, and 3 are missing from the number line. It's that number "1" you're looking for (not "01"). 

The numbers "8 9/9 0/0 01 02" indicate the year the book was published. Look for the lowest "year" in this string of numbers, in this case the "8" followed by "9/9" indicates 1998. (9/9 = 1999, 0/0 = 2000, 01 = 2001, etc.)

This can also be tricky because, again, the Book Club Edition (BCE) may also show the full number line. BUT there are other ways to tell if it's a more valuable First Edition or a less valuable BCE.

Check the Original Price

Even if you don't have a first print, you may still have a valuable book. Open the front cover of your book and check the price listed in the upper right corner of the front dust jacket flap.

If there is no price listed, then you have a Book Club Edition

If the price listed is $17.95, you have a later printing. 

If the price listed is $19.95, then you have a MUCH Later printing that, unless it's signed is probably not worth much.

If, however, the price listed is $16.95, then you have an earlier print run whose value may be higher. Even the later print runs of this first edition can garner prices in the $100 range. The price changed to $17.95 somewhere between the 21st and 24th print runs. If it's $17.95, it still could be a good book to keep in the collection (with a value potentially hovering around $100, although I've seen some book sellers trying to sell it for over $500 - passing it off as THE first American edition. Don't be fooled). keep reading...

The Spine

The U.S. first edition had several different dust jacket designs, the spines and back covers of which differ slightly:

  1. The first design lists "J.K. Rowling" as the author, printed at the head (top) of the spine. No Year is listed.
  2. The second design remains the same on the spine (but the back of the dust jacket changes - see below)
  3. The third design lists the author as "Rowling" (dropping the J.K.), and still does not display the "Year 1" badge.
  4. The fourth, fifth, and all subsequent designs lists the author as "Rowling" under which it states "Year 1" on the spine - this indicates either a later print run or a Book Club Edition (with the price of $17.95). *although it should be noted that some BCEs may not include "Year 1" on the spine, in these cases, you'll need to examine the book boards (see below).

The Back Cover

Dust jacket design changes weren't limited to the spine:
  1. The first design: On the back cover, the isbn box is white with the numbers "51695" above the small barcode, AND the back cover has a quote from The Guardian (not Publishers Weekly)
  2. The second dust jacket design has a Publishers Weekly quote on the back. All else is the same.
  3. The back cover of the third dust jacket design doesn't change. (Just the spine)
  4. The fourth jacket design shows the price jump ($17.95) somewhere between the 12th and 21st printings; the isbn box is white with the numbers "51795" above the small barcode.
  5. The fifth design has a red isbn box on the back cover instead of white - this happened sometime around the 26th printing. The price is still listed as $17.95.
If there is no small barcode or the small barcode does not have numbers (51695, 51795, 51995) above it, then it is a Book Club Edition.

Check Under the Cover: The Book Boards
Also of importance is the book board underneath that dust jacket. It should be a purple, diamond-stamped board and a red cloth spine with gold stamped letters (EXCEPT for the 6th printing, which is just a plain purple board, no diamond stamp).

Later bindings of the book will have black diamond stamped boards with a purple cloth spine (these can still garner a 3-digit price, but closer to the $100 level).

Even later editions will have a plain red board with black cloth or a plain black board with red cloth (or may just be plain red or black with no change in the spine color). 

Both LATER printings and Book Club Editions will feature plain boards (no diamond stamp). These later printings are worth very little. However, some people will (either knowingly or unknowingly) try to sell these later printings as the more valuable First Editions. Unless they're signed by the author or illustrator, they're really not worth the high price tag.

Also check the spine. Information on the spine should appear in gold lettering. The lettering should be crisp and clear (no flaking). Information on the spine of the book should match that on the spine of the dust jacket. (If no year is present on the dust jacket, neither should the book spine have a year displayed.)

*The Condition
Absolutely none of this matters if your book is not in Fine to Near Fine condition

Most books out there are in the poor to fair condition (in nicer terms this means the book was well read). 

Book collectors are looking for books in like new condition - perhaps read once, with nice crisp clean pages, and a tight, square binding. If the book leans when standing, or if it's floppy, loose or scuffed up, the value will take a nose dive. 

Similarly the value drops, if there are any marks (owner's names), name plates, underlining, etc. on the pages. Even odors can diminish the value (musty, mildewy, smokey).

And then there's price clipping... the age-old habit of clipping off the corner of the dust jacket in which the price can be found. Price-clipped dust jackets lower the value of the book, not just because the jacket has been defaced, but because it makes it harder to confirm the edition and printing of the book. 

For more information, see The Harry Potter Collecting Guide at Abe Books, or the Harry Potter page at First Edition Points.

As with all markets, there is a collector for every type of book. But even if you don't have a copy that the market sees as valuable - you still have a piece of literary history and a great book that jump started a whole new generation of readers.

[updated 9/9/13]

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