How Much is that Harry Potter in the Window? (pt. 2)

In part one of this series, we talked about the U.K. editions, their print runs and various states. In the case of the first three books in the series, the U.K. editions were published up to a year ahead of the U.S. editions (as such are considered the true firsts). Starting with the fourth book, however, the first editions were simultaneously published in the U.K., U.S., Canada, and Australia.

Even though the U.S. versions of the first three books aren't considered the true firsts, they still have quite a bit of value, but what people don't understand is that even if you HAVE a first edition, if the condition isn't pristine, then the book isn't going to be worth what you want it to be worth.

Case in point, as I write this there are several copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for sale over on eBay. They claim (and I truly believe them to be) first editions. They're asking anywhere from $425 to $500 USD (unsigned). The only problem? They are in atrocious condition.

Let's review how book conditions are graded or categorized:

With that in mind, let's take a look at a couple of examples, in which the sellers think they have an 'As New' or 'Fine' copy, when in fact they have something that more closely resembles 'Poor' to 'Good.'

Example 1

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
First edition / First printing (2nd state dust jacket)
Full number line is presented on the copyright page
Original price shows $16.95
Back cover has a quote from Publishers Weekly rather than the Guardian (thus the 2nd state dust jacket)
Asking: $475 USD

I think most people would look at this picture and be a bit leery of the $475 price tag (with good reason), but if you don't see the warning signs, let me show you.

First, let me call your attention to the book corners. There is visible bumping and wear on all corners.

Some wear is warranted, considering the book is 17 years old, but ideally, you don't want to be able to spot that wear with the naked eye from 2-3 feet away.

Second, check out the bottom edge of the dust jacket. It's a bit worn / mangled.

A closer view of that corner. Not looking good.

And a couple more corners, showing bumps to the book boards and rips in the dust jacket. (Check out how dirty those pages are too).

Remember, a book that is "sufficiently worn... soiled, scuffed, stained or spotted" falls under the 'Poor' category.  
Next, let's look at the condition of the book cover beneath the dust jacket. There are visible water stains and wear marks.

And I'm noticing too, that the debossed diamond pattern on the purple book board very difficult to see, possibly indicating further wear.

The lettering on the spine is mostly worn off. You want it, instead, to be crisp and clear with no sign of rubbing or flaking.

And you want the book block to be clean and tight. It's hard to tell if it's tight, although the book block looks nice and square. It's certainly not considered clean.

The only way I would buy this book, in the condition it is presented, is if it were signed by the author. Which it is not. (I would then probably pay a restorer a hefty sum to clean, repair, and possibly rebind the book).

I'm guessing, this book is probably worth $50 - $100, given its condition and the fact that it is not signed. I certainly wouldn't pay $475, but there might be someone out there who will (no judgment). Instead, I'd look for a copy that was in better condition - at any given point in time you can find listings for a First / First of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in much better condition for $350 and up on sites like or even Amazon. Just be careful when reading the descriptions and don't buy anything that you're not 100% sure of.

Example 2: 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
First edition / First printing (2nd state dust jacket)
*Claims it's a "true first" - which it is not, since it's not the U.K. version. It's not even a first state U.S. edition.*
Full number line is presented on the copyright page
Original price shows $16.95
Back cover has a quote from Publishers Weekly
*Front end sheet has an inscribed note from "mom"*
Asking: $499 USD

At first glance, this copy looks pretty nice. The owner has, at least, covered the book with Brodart (or the like) for protection.

With a protective cover, it is harder to tell the condition of the dust jacket, so you have to rely on their description and photographs.

In this case, the photos are limited, but the dust jacket looks like it's in pretty good condition. It's what's under the dust jacket that is a bit concerning.

Wear & water stains. It looks like someone rested their coffee cup or water glass (repeatedly) on the book. And, I'm guessing the dust jacket (if it's original) will have matching water damage.

Also check out the wear on the red book cloth towards the bottom half of the book. This might indicate that the book went without a dust jacket for a time (and was perhaps cradled in someone's hand while reading, creating a worn spot).

And the upper right hand corner of the book appears to have the remains of a sticker or price tag. This might mean that the book was once sold without the dust jacket, and has since acquired a new one. If that's the case, you need to make sure the dust jacket matches the spine of the book (in this case, based on other pictures posted by the seller, it appears that it does).

The foil stamped lettering on the spine looks better on this book than on the other one, but there is still some wear.

Like the other copy, this one is not signed by the author or the illustrator, and while the dust jacket appears to be in 'Fine' or 'Very Good' condition, the book itself would probably be classified as 'Fair.'

There's nothing wrong with books in 'Fair' condition - but, in this case, I wouldn't pay $499, even if it is a First / First.

I've seen copies in similar condition priced in the $50 - $100 range, which is probably MORE than a fair price, given it's a First / First with 2nd state dust jacket.

It should be noted that eBay is not the only marketplace on which people attempt to sell poorer quality first/firsts of Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. Even over at Abebooks (by all accounts a reputable marketplace) there are 'Poor' to 'Fair' copies for which the seller hopes to garner a high price. So just be vigilant if you're shopping for one of these copies... Or if you're trying to sell your copy - be honest with both yourself and the buyer.

There were only about 10,000 copies printed in the first U.S. run, so there are people out there who will pay higher prices to get their hands on one of these First / Firsts. If you're selling your copy, just be honest about the condition, the buyer may not care.

So then, you might ask, what does a 'Fine' copy look like? Well, it looks practically new. Most likely it's been read once then carefully put back on the shelf. To be honest, I scoured various online marketplaces and couldn't find ANY pictures illustrating what a 'Fine' or 'As New' copy looks like. Anyone offering a book in this condition should also post or offer to provide pictures in order to fully back up their claims.

I can, however, show you some examples of what would probably be considered 'Very Good':

First, let me note that this is a First U.S. edition / Eighth printing (not a First / First). That aside, take a look at how crisp the foil-stamped lettering appears, and that there is a lack of wear on the red book cloth.

This particular copy has a few "voids" in the foil-stamping (notice the pin sized dots on the 'H'). Although these could easily be contributed to printing rather than wear, if I were to sell this copy, it would behoove me to disclose this to my buyer.

Here's picture of the spine of a First U.S. edition / Fourth printing (worth about $220 USD). The foil stamping is still quite crisp, although the author's name (JK Rowling) has started to wear a little.

Also notice that the red book cloth is in good shape, as are the purple diamond-stamped book boards.

Compare this to the example(s) above.
Now, let's take a look at those corners. Here, we have sharp looking corners that haven't been repeatedly bumped or dulled. Notice, too that the pages appear to have clean edges, unlike the examples shown above.

And how about those dust jackets? Well, I have mine protected in Brodart sleeves. In general, they're in 'Good' to 'Very Good' condition, but you can't really tell that from the picture.

You can't tell that there are light, not-quite creases on the spine or that the lower right corner shows some wear.

There are no rips or tears, although these small wear points are enough to downgrade this dust jacket from 'Fine' to 'Very Good.'

When in doubt, consult the chart above that lays out what is allowable under each condition & remember, 'As New' is literally a book that is brand new and has NOT been read or repeatedly opened. It has not been previously bought or owned by anyone. Instead, it has been sitting on a warehouse shelf somewhere (for the past 14-17 years). I'm not saying that there aren't 'As New' copies of the earlier Harry Potter books out there, but is a very rare thing.

A book in 'Fine' condition is one that has been bought / owned by one person and probably read once, but looks like a new book. Again, these are pretty rare, especially the further out you get from the date of publication. These were most likely bought by collectors early on and kept pristine.

The average conscientious book owners and novice collectors out there who generally take care of their books - covering them, dusting them, storing them upright on shelves, etc. -- these folks are more likely to have books in the 'Very Good' category.

Most of the rest of the world, however, probably has books in 'Fair' to 'Good' condition. Sometimes you'll have to read between the lines to determine if a book is in the condition that the bookseller has listed it. For instance, if a seller says a book is in 'As New condition' and follows that statement up with a description like, 'only slight wear with previous owner's name on the end-sheet and small tear on dj corner' -- Well, then it's not really 'As New.' Based on the description they just gave, it's probably a 'Very Good' to 'Good' copy.

So just keep that in mind when trying to determine the condition of your books. In general, we all want to own 'Fine' or 'As New' books, but the truth is, most of us just don't. We didn't buy the book way back when thinking that one day it might be collectible. We bought it to read, as did 99% of the population.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,