Proof copy of first Harry Potter book could sell for £20K after being found during school clear-out

A proof copy of the first Harry Potter book which was bought for £1 is set to fetch £20,000 at auction after being found during a primary school clear out.

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The ultra-rare Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was discovered at an Oxfordshire village primary school which purchased it for a pound 26 years ago. The ‘Uncorrected Proof Copy’ was one of only 200 printed by Bloomsbury in 1997and marked the start of the Harry Potter phenomenon.

The book is such an early example, it even gets the author’s name wrong stating ‘J A Rowling’ instead of J K Rowling. St Kenelm’s Primary School in Minster Lovell, Witney, purchased the book in 1997 but feared it had accidentally been thrown away after it went missing for eight years.

However, it turned up by chance during a summer tidy-up and could now sell for tens of thousands of pounds at auction. It will go under the hammer at Hansons Auctioneers, in Derbyshire, with a guide price of £15,000-£20,000 on September 5.

Jim Spencer, head of books at Hansons said, “This book is where it all began. This is the very first appearance in print of the first Harry Potter novel. The title page states the author’s name as ‘J A Rowling’, and, on the other side, ‘Joanne Rowling’.

“It’s believed just 200 copies of this book were printed by Bloomsbury. This modest little paperback is the beginning of it all.The author’s signing tours, the midnight queues outside bookshops, the movies, the merchandise - it all stems from this.

“This copy bears a stamp for St Kenelm’s School. It has decided to sell the book, which was originally put on the shelves of the library for pupils to read. The plain cover evidently didn’t inspire many, if any, takers, and so it has survived remarkably well. As soon as Harry Potter mania developed, the school wisely removed it from the borrowing shelves.”

Bob Alder, 75, a retired St Kenelm’s School headteacher from Witney, Oxfordshire said: “The book was purchased by St Kenelm’s Primary School in 1997 from Red House Books Ltd, which held an annual sale of books from its warehouse in Witney.

"Local schools, nurseries and play groups had the first choice of books in the sale. Books were usually about half price, some even less, and the school would purchase something like 50 books in each of the annual sales.

"It was quite by luck that the Harry Potter was spotted in the sale. It had none of the attractiveness of a typical child’s paperback. It cost £1. It was not thought to have any value. However, it was known from press coverage that the story was something special, and to read extracts to the children would encourage them to own their own copy.

“Fortunately, first editions were soon purchased by children as well as the school, so the uncorrected proof copy was left largely untouched on the shelves among other intensely read Harry Potter books.

“By 2002 it was realised that first edition copies of Harry Potter were become collectors’ items and finding the proof copy on the shelves, the school realised it might too, one day, have value. Consequently, it was removed from the shelves, packaged, and put somewhere safe.

"In 2015 it went missing and there was concern it had been thrown away in a clear out of old and damaged paperbacks.

“The book was rediscovered during a tidy-up, and knowing there were only 200 copies issued, it seemed time for it to find a new owner who would properly value it as the beginning of what has become an international phenomenon and also know that he or she will be helping fund children in St Kenelm’s School to further develop their own love of literature.”

Mr Spencer added: “I have made several important Harry Potter discoveries but this is extra special, and a first for me. Since 2017 Hansons has sourced and sold 16 super rare hardback first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which were published in the very first 500-book print run.

Uncorrected Proof Copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, one of only 200 printed.  Uncorrected Proof Copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, one of only 200 printed.
Uncorrected Proof Copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, one of only 200 printed.

“This find is even more scarce. Not only that, it takes us back a stage further in the evolution of the multi-million-pound Potter phenomenon. This is an original proof copy of a book which went on to take the world by storm.

“Hansons has sold hardback Philosopher’s Stone first editions for prices ranging from £15,500 to £69,000 dependant on condition. I’m guiding this uncorrected proof copy at £15,000-20,000. However, bearing in mind its place in history, it could surprise us all.”

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