Proof copy of first Harry Potter book - bought for £1 by Witney school in 1997 - sells for thousands

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

A proof copy of the very first Harry Potter book, bought for £1, has just sold at auction for nearly £19,000.

The 'Uncorrected Proof Copy' of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, one of only 200 printed, was discovered by chance at St Kenelm Primary School in Minster Lovell in Witney.

It had gone missing for 8 years and the school feared it had been thrown away, but it turned up during a summer tidy up.

After the book failed to sell at auction, it was then bought by a local businessman from Faringdon.

Jim Spencer with the rare Harry Potter book. Credit: Hansons Auctioneers

He said: "I am tremendously happy to have acquired such an iconic and important text and to be able to keep it in the county for others to enjoy. The main reason for the purchase is to increase visitors to Faringdon.

"We have a partnership with Faringdon Town Council and hope to be able to display the book in the town museum, which is located in the old pump house, in the coming months. Faringdon has much to offer and we hope this acquisition will give the town, and the school in Minster Lovell from which it was acquired, a welcome boost."

Jim Spencer, Head of Books at Hansons said: "I never doubted it would sell. Whether or not you like Harry Potter, you can't deny the impact it had and its place in literary history because it got kids not only reading but queuing up for the latest books, writing fan mail and going to book signings. It's hard to imagine. It was a reading craze.

"This uncorrected proof represents the start of that phenomenon, and it's really scarce - only 200 were printed. This is exactly why we have reserves in place. I had a duty of care to the vendor, the school, and it would've been wrong to let a dealer grab a bargain for a quick sale when I knew the potential market value.

It's hoped the book will be displayed in the town's museum and will attract visitors to the area. Credit: Hansons Auctioneers

"I was incredulous when it didn't spark a bidding battle. I couldn't process it. I came to the conclusion collectors had simply put their efforts into acquiring one of the other important Harry Potter books in the same sale, either that or the big collectors had slept through their alarm clocks.

"I knew it wasn't right and the interest would pour in at some point. What I couldn't have predicted was this fairy-tale ending with the book staying at home in Oxfordshire and being shared with the public."

Bob Alder, 75, retired St Kenelm’s School headteacher from Witney, Oxfordshire, said: “The school is absolutely delighted. After an earlier disappointment, it is a fantastic outcome.

"The book was purchased by St Kenelm’s 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.

The title pages states the author’s name as 'J A Rowling'. Credit: Hansons Auctioneers

"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 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 first edition copies of Harry Potter were becoming collectors’ items and finding the Proof Copy on the shelves, the school realised it might have value. Consequently, it was put somewhere safe. In 2015 it went missing and there was concern it had been thrown away in a clear out of old paperbacks.

"The book was rediscovered in 2023 during a tidy up, and knowing there were only 200 copies issued, it seemed time for it to find a new owner. The buyer will be pleased to know he will be helping fund children in St Kenelm’s School to further develop their love of literature."

Jim said: "This proof copy is where the Harry Potter phenomenon began. This is the very first appearance in print of the first Potter novel. The title page mistakenly states the author’s name as as 'J ARowling' instead of 'J K Rowling and, on the other side, 'Joanne Rowling'. The author's signing tours, the midnight queues outside bookshops, the movies, the merchandise - it all stems from this."

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