Harry Potter Goes Highbrow in Sotheby’s Charity Book Sale


Sotheby’s upcoming book auction in London on May 21, organized with charity English PEN and titled “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” features an eclectic mix of titles from top contemporary authors ranging from heavyweights Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwen, and Tom Stoppard to lighter fare from “Harry Potter” series writer J.K. Rowling and “Bridget Jones” author Helen Fielding.

Each of the respective first editions has been annotated, commented on, and illustrated by the author. Rowling marked up a copy of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” the first in her series of seven books that was turned into eight films and is one of the most popular children’s book series in history. Rowling notes: “I wrote the book… in snatched hours, in clattering cafés or in the dead of night. For me, the story of how I wrote ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ is written invisibly on every page, legible only to me. Sixteen years after it was published, the memories are as vivid as ever as I turn these pages. “

Rowling’s personal annotations range from notes on the series as a whole and the film adaptations, to commentary on the unpopularity of the first chapter and an anomaly in chapter four about snapped wands. Her illustrations include a sleeping baby Harry on the Dursleys’ door step, an Albus Dumbledore Chocolate Frog Card, and Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback dragon.

Sotheby’s director of printed books and manuscripts Dr. Philip Errington calls it the “definitive copy of any Harry Potter book,” noting Rowling’s “numerous written comments and many impressive and evocative illustrations. The personality of the author leaps from these pages.”

There are no presale estimates on the works since the sale is a charity auction. The bulk of the proceeds (67 percent) from the  Potter sale will benefit English PEN, while the remainder will go towards the Lumos Foundation, a charity Rowling founded to support the  right to family life of the estimated 8 million children in institutions worldwide.

— Eileen Kinsella

(Image courtesy English PEN, Sotheby’s.)