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Literary Alchemy: First editions of the original Harry Potter book are worth a small fortune.

Harry Potter and the Pot of Gold

Does the rainbow end on your bookshelves? Speculators search for the golden editions of Harry Potter.

By Rick Kleffel

While the world busies itself putting pots of gold in the pockets of the publishers of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as well as those of deserving author J. K. Rowling, readers and fans may themselves be sitting on a pot of gold and not even know it. We all know that reading Harry Potter is the best reward. The sense of community shared among his fans is enormous. The legions of readers that these books are creating will last for decades. And not surprisingly, the value of the earliest editions is giving the Santa Cruz County real estate market a run for its money.

Who knew back in July of 1997, when Bloomsbury Books in England first published Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, that author J. K. Rowling and her creation would soon become household words? Metro Santa Cruz spoke with Internet bookseller Tim Miller of Flatsigned.com about Harry Potter and the pots of gold awaiting those who managed to buy one of the valuable editions. "Bloomsbury printed 1,000 copies of the first edition in the U.K.," Miller told us. "Of those, 500 went to libraries, and were read so many times that they were literally destroyed. Only 500 copies were sold in bookstores. Those U.K. first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone will sell for between $20,000 and $40,000."

Over the years most but not all of these copies have been identified and signed. "I still come across people who buy a book for 50 cents at a swap meet that turns out to be worth $10,000," Miller explained. But Ted Smart, a U.K. publisher, obtained permission to print his own versions of the first book, and the versions he printed are so close to the original that the differences come down to the font size and style on the copyright page. "Unless you know what you're buying, you need to consult an expert," warns Miller.

In the United States, the first printing of the retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by Scholastic Books was between 10,000 and 20,000 copies. Half of those went to the libraries. The rest were sold in bookstores to readers who never knew that they were buying one of the most valuable books they would ever own. With a cover price tag of $15.95, those first American editions are now worth $3,000 to $4,000. But beware of signed copies. "Ninety percent of the Rowling signatures out there in books are fakes," explains Miller.

How do you tell if you've got a pot of gold on your bookshelf? Start by looking on the copyright page. You should see a sequence of numbers the looks like this: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 98 99 00 01

If you've got that, you're partway there. Next, you need to be sure that you've got a regular edition, not a teacher's edition. The regular edition has boards--those are the actual hard covers of the book--with a diamond-patterned purple or maroon covering the entire board. Teacher's editions, often called "false firsts," sport simple, cheap black boards. On the back spine, you should see a box that looks like a little house. Later editions have the number "1" inside them. If you have a true first edition, then your box is empty.

Now check the dust jacket. First, make sure the price is $15.95; once Scholastic began to see what they had on their hands, they raised the price to $16.95. Next, make sure the blurb on the back is from the London Guardian, not Publisher's Weekly.

Still with us? Now, make sure your book isn't in good condition, because, according to Miller, "Good condition really is bad." The highest grade for a book is Fine, followed by Near Fine, Very Good and Good. If your book and its dust jacket are in Fine condition, then it's worth $3,000. Now that's some good--make that fine--reading!

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From the July 27-August 3, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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