A 1997 first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, complete with personal annotations and twenty-two original illustrations by J. K. Rowling, grabbed a record-breaking £150,000 ($225,000) at a Sotheby’s auction in London on May 21st. A bidding war between two auction attendees rocketed the price skyward in increments of £25,000 until the hammer fell, to applause, at £150,000, setting a new record for Rowling.
The Sotheby’s auction, entitled “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” was a charity effort to raise funds for PEN, an English non-profit that fights censorship and advocates for freedom of expression. Fifty British and Commonwealth writers annotated - and sometimes illustrated - copies of first editions of their work. The auction was curated by the rare book dealer Rick Gekoski and raised an impressive £439,000.
Other highlights included a first edition of Matilda by Roald Dahl with new illustrations by Quentin Blake, which brought in £30,000. Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day raised £18,000, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall went for £16,000, and Ralph Steadman’s illustrated edition of Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas took home £14,500.
The first edition of Harry Potter was, however, the talk of the night. Dr. Philip Errington, Sotheby’s director of printed books and manuscripts, referred to it as “the definitive copy of any Harry Potter book.” Rowling annotated the book with reflections on writing it in “snatched hours in clattering cafes or in the dead of night,” and added twenty-two illustrations.
Anticipating a significant hammer price, Rowling dictated that 67% of the sale of the annotated Harry Potter would go toward PEN, with the remaining balance directed toward Rowling’s own charity, the Lumos Foundation, which seeks to improve the lives of European children living in institutions and helps them transition into family care situations.