EDINBURGH, Scotland – One of the few first edition copies of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, inscribed and signed by J.K. Rowling was sold by Lyon & Turnbull auctioneers in Edinburgh on June 17 for £125,000 ($155,498). The price is a new European auction record. Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.
Famously the first edition, first impression hardback of the first Harry Potter book was only printed in 500 copies. Of these around 300 were given to libraries and schools and are typically in poor condition while of the remaining 200 copies only handful were then inscribed by the then unknown author for friends, acquaintances, and family members.
This copy, surviving in fine condition, includes the note, “For James, Kate and Laura, with best wishes, J.K. Rowling and the date 6-9-97” (September 1997), less than three months after the book’s publication in June of that year. It attracted competitive bidding from across the globe before selling to an international buyer at a price very close to the world record for a copy of The Philosopher’s Stone.
The Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs auction on June 17 – a sale held live online with bids received by telephone, absentee and across four live bidding platforms – welcomed the book back to the city widely regarded as the “home of Harry Potter.” Specialist Cathy Marsden says, “we were delighted to have the opportunity to handle this iconic volume here in Edinburgh, a beautiful copy of a very rare book made even more special by J.K. Rowling’s inscription. The huge levels of interest it received from around the world shows Harry Potter remains a global superstar.”
The first impression of the book has four key issue points that were changed in later editions. They include a title page with copyright information from 1997, the misspelling “Philospher’s” on the back cover and on page 53 duplicates “1 wand” on Harry’s shopping list.
The first James Bond
In the market for British “modern firsts,” Harry Potter is followed closely by 007. Sold at £30,000 was a first edition, first impression of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel – Casino Royale. Published in 1953, this copy was highly prized for the survival of its first state dust jacket printed without the Sunday Times review that appeared on slightly later copies. The jacket had not been price-clipped and showed only minor signs of wear.
Lyon & Turnbull are the current holders of the world auction record for Fleming’s Casino Royale for a copy, inscribed by the author, sold in October 2019 for £55,000.
Cromwell makes a match
Among the most historically important in the sale was a remarkable diplomatic letter from Thomas Cromwell regarding the furtherance of the fourth of Henry VIII’s marriages. Estimated at up to £4,500, it sold at £25,000.
Probably penned by Cromwell in the spring of 1539, in this two-page document to his “very loving and assured Frend [..] doctor Wotton the Kinges ambassador in the parties of Germany,” he writes to the diplomat Nicholas Wotton in the hope of engineering a match between the king and Anne of Cleves.
Cromwell – who has overseen the seismic religious reforms that followed Henry’s break with Rome and establishment of the Church of England – was eager to form an alliance with the Protestant princes of Germany and instructs Wootton to negotiate with the Duke of Cleves. It reads: “… I have directyed my lettres of congratulacion to my ladie Anne’s grace … I doubte not you wool set forth the kinges Majestes presentes with goode and modest woords as the same …”
Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves lasted just six months, ending in annulment in July 1540. Out of favor, Cromwell fell from power and was executed on Tower Hill on July 28, 1540.
The letter was once part of the important manuscript collection at Towneley Hall, Lancashire, which was dispersed across a series of sales beginning in the 1880s.
Letters from the Bard
A private collection devoted to Robert Burns reached nearly £60,000, led by two autographed letters. Sold at £11,250 were two pages referencing perhaps his finest poetic creation, Tam o’Shanter: a Tale that was first published alongside an engraving of Alloway Auld Kirk in The Antiquities of Scotland (1791). Once accompanied by the manuscript itself, the note dated Dec. 1, 1790 was penned by Burns from Ellisland Farm to the antiquarian Capt. Francis Grose (1731-91).
He modestly says: “I am not, God knows, vain of my composition, and if you like intellectual food more substantial than the whipt syllabub of epistolary compliment.” He then refers to “one of the Aloway Kirk stories, done in Scots verse” adding “Should you think it worthy a place in your Scots Antiquities, it will lengthen not a little the altitude of my Muse’s pride.”
Burns’ famously turbulent romantic affairs were the subject of another letter, sold at £12,500, written to his friend James Smith in Mauchline on August 1, 1786. It references his rocky courtship of local girl Jean Armour, who, at the time, was pregnant with twins but deemed an unsuitable match for a poor plowman. Burns – who was also considering elopement to Jamaica with another girl Mary Campbell – writes: “Against two things however, I am fix’d as Fate: staying at home and owning her conjugally. The first, by Heaven I will not do!. The last, by Hell, I will never do!” Ultimately the plan for a West Indian expedition was shelved and Burns finally married Jean in 1788, with whom he had nine children.
More than 1,100 bidders from across the globe registered for this £500,000 sale, which found buyers for 82% of the 391 lots on offer.
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