They may not look like anything special, but some books can fetch impressive sums when they go under the hammer. First editions of works by JK Rowling, Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll are particularly sought after by collectors, who can send prices skyrocketing when such tomes come up for auction

When "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was first published in 1997, copies sold in British bookstores for GB£10.99 (approx. US$15). Now, one such book is estimated to fetch $42,500 at auction. The book goes up for sale January 28 via US auctioneers Nate D. Sanders Auctions. This first edition of Harry Potter's adventures is one of the 500 rare hardcover copies of the UK first edition of J.K. Rowling's bestseller, which are highly sought after by fans of the series, not to mention book collectors.

As well as being rare, these first editions of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" have some very specific characteristics, such as the spelling error ''Philospher's'' on the rear cover, and the repetition of "1 wand" on page 53. The "10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1" number sequence also features on the back of the title page, while Rowling is credited as "Joanne" rather than "J.K." on the copyright page. These unique details go some way to explain why these works fetch thousands of dollars at auction. One sold for £81,250 (approx. $111,500) at Sotheby's in 2019, a record for a "Harry Potter" first edition.

"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is part of a long list of first editions that keep growing in value. First editions of the late Ian Fleming's spy novels have been particularly in vogue in recent years. A 1954 copy of "Live and Let Die" recently surpassed its £70,000 estimate (approx. $96,000) to reach the unprecedented sum of £189,000 (approx. $259,000), buoyed by the presence of a handwritten inscription by Fleming addressed to Winston Churchill, not to mention 007's enduring popularity. In fact, a collection of 15 original editions of the adventures of James Bond is currently listed for £475,000 (approx. $651,000) at John Atkinson Fine & Rare Books.

$9.98 million for a Shakespeare first edition

And the most British of spies isn't the only one enthralling the world's great collectors of old and rare books, of whom there are an estimated 50 or so worldwide, according to a recent story. First editions of classics attributed to Isaac Newton or William Shakespeare are just as likely to pique collectors' interest when they come up for sale. And, being so rare, that doesn't happen often. 

A rare, complete original copy of the first compilation of Shakespeare's plays was of particular interest when it came up for auction at Christie's in October. This First Folio, published seven years after The Bard's death, sold for $9.98 million, setting a new world record for a printed work of literature. And that was no surprise for Margaret Ford, the international head of books and manuscripts at Christie's, who pointed out at the time that: "An opportunity like this comes around only once a generation." And so for collectors, it's often a very long waiting game.

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