The money to be made from classic books

If the idea of surrounding yourself with valuable first editions has a certain romantic appeal, here’s where to start.


Just 500 copies of the first printing exist

Jim Spencer, a books specialist at Hansons, was shocked when a Lancashire family brought a metallic silver briefcase to the Staffordshire auctioneers. "It felt like we were dealing in smuggled diamonds." But it wasn't diamonds inside the briefcase. It was something far more precious (well, to Harry Potter fans at least) a first-edition hardback copy from the first 1997 print run of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. This month it sold for £57,040 (including taxes and fees) almost double its £30,000 high-end estimate. No wonder its owners had taken such good care of it. "The book was given to us as gift by an aunt when our children were small," the anonymous owner who brought itin explained.

"She bought it at an independent book shop when it was first published. The plan was to keep it as a family heirloom. My wife put it in a briefcase to stop the pages turning yellow." When the book emerged from the briefcase two decades later, "I couldn't believe the condition of it almost like the day it was made", says Spencer."I can't imagine a better copy can be found."

Profiting from Potter mania

Just 500 copies were printed in the first run of the first Harry Potter book, which makes the Hansons copy a "first edition, first printing". It goes without saying that these are the most coveted among collectors.The author, JK Rowling, was still unknown at this point, so Bloomsbury, the publisher, wanted to besure the book would sell before printing more copies. (And boy, did it sell more than 120 million copies in total at the last count.)

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A feature of the first print run was that it also contained two errors. Had this copy of the novel been signed by Rowling, naturally that would have added value too. Finally, the book was able to achieve its hammer price (the price before taxes and fees) of £46,000 because the adventures of the boy wizard are just so phenomenally popular. The recent sale at Hansons was prompted by news of a sale in July of another copy of the book that had been bought from a Staffordshire library for £1. "It sparked Potter mania," says Spencer. In all, 12 Harry Potter first editions subsequently emerged from the woodwork to be sold this month a "Potter bonanza". No doubt this latest sale will inspire even more people to search their bookshelves.

But it isn't just Harry Potter books that have grown in value in recent years. Between 1996 and 2015, according to the Stanley Gibbons rare book index, the first edition of George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945) rose in value by 2,597%, Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (1943) gained 1,729%, and Ian Fleming's Bond classic Live and Let Die (1954) rose by 1,579%.

When buyingfirst editions as a collector, be sureto go to a reputable auction house or retailer, such as And in case you're wondering, a second edition of a book only follows when there is a major change, perhaps with the cover, notes publisher First Second Books. Otherwise, the next print run is counted as "first edition, second printing" and so on. You can tell which printing a book is from by looking on the copyright page.

Cashing in on comics

The market for American comic books and comic-book art has been steadily growing in value, although it is still mainly US-centred. In August 2014 a new record was set for the most expensive comic book when Action Comics number one (1938) featuring Superman's debut sold for $3.2m on Ebay. Related artwork has also been selling well. In February 2018 the original artwork for The Amazing Spider-Man number 100 (1971), by John Romita Sr. and Frank Giacoia, sold for $478,000 with Heritage Auctions, a fifth above its pre-sale estimate, setting a record for Marvel comics from that era. In May the same year, Death Dealer 6, by comic artist Frank Frazetta, sold for $1,792,500 almost three times the previous record paid at auction for a work of American-published comic-book art. If you're keen to find out what your teenage stash is worth, then The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is the go-to pricing resource.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.