EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Alli Arnold from Auctionata on rare “Harry Potter” books

On March 30, the auction house Auctionata, founded by Georg Untersalmberger and Alexander Zacke, will be auctioning (naturally) two hard-to-come-by items from the series: first editions of the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban books. We’ve all seen in the past how such first editions go on to fetch quite the handsome price. So in anticipation of this event, we spoke with their in-house Antiques & Collectibles Specialist for this sale, Alli Arnold, and picked her brain on the world of auctioning and the significance of the two novels in question.

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So Alli, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Please tell us a bit about how you got involved with your current profession and what exactly it entails.

I found my way into auctions through studying [a]rt [h]istory. I’ve always been passionate about social justice, and the arts are an incredible chronicle of social change. [During] my sophomore year in college, I had my first internship in an auction house in Chicago, and I immediately loved […] the way auctions find objects new homes.

At Auctionata, I’m the Antiques & Collectibles Specialist, which makes me a bit of a “generalist” specialist. To work in auctions, you have to like learning new things every day. As a specialist, I am involved with the whole life cycle of a piece at auction, from first meeting a client and setting an estimate to making sure that a piece is safely handled, properly presented, and lastly, sold to a new owner.

How frequently do you discover such collectible “rare book” items, and do you often need to persuade owners to sell? Do they approach you?

Sometimes I work with antiques dealers who already know what they have, and sometimes I work with property coming from individuals’ homes. The times when I can surprise clients about the hidden value of their property are some of my favorite. I have stopped consignors from throwing away their great aunt’s books just in time to state the auction value. Every so often, when clients realize how valuable something is, they decide to keep it. However, people [more] often prefer to get money to spend on a trip or to put into savings. It is very important that a client [is] ready to sell before putting something to auction. For this reason, I always avoid persuading someone to sell if they are unsure.

How did you come about these first edition Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban novels?

These Harry Potter editions came to me through a book dealer in Great Britain.

Why are first editions so valuable, and in the case of the Harry Potter series, at what point do first editions start losing value?

For Harry Potter books, the most valuable are the British first editions, first pressings. The British first editions feature colorful boards with artwork to match the dust jackets. Furthermore, several of the first pressings have minor differences from the second pressings. For example, the edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in our sale says “Copyright Joanne Rowling” instead of “J.K. Rowling.” Value drops for these books when they have these minor differences corrected in the later printings, […] when the dust jackets have been lost or damaged, or further still if the condition of the actual book is poor.

How can readers identify first editions, and what precautions can they take to prevent purchasing “fakes”?

It is unlikely to come across a fake modern book. It is more common to come across a modern book [that] has had its original dust jacket replaced by a reproduction or later pressing’s dust jacket. There are certain clues that identify the first pressings from later Harry Potter books. The most easily noted is the change of title between the first British edition of the first book and the first American edition. The first British edition was titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while the American first editions were only ever titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

If an individual thinks that they’re in the possession of something valuable, what steps should they take if they intend to auction or sell the item?

As a specialist, I love to get inquiries about potential new discoveries. This said, some auction houses make themselves less approachable than others. Luckily, Auctionata offers a free service of five free valuations through our website.

Is there an ideal Harry Potter item that auction houses would love to obtain?

In terms of books, a signed edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is something that I foresee increasing in value as time goes on and the series continues to establish itself in the canon of young adult fiction.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to gain experience in your industry?

If you are interested in getting into auctions, an internship is a really great way to get hands-on experience. Interacting with objects in real [life] is the best way to learn and I might add, the most fun.

To date, do you have a favorite item that you helped get to the auctioning stage?

I fall for something new in each auction that I work on. Right now, my two favorites are [a] rare set of Galileo translations and a T-rex skull cast in an upcoming [n]atural [h]istory auction.

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We hoped you gained as much information from this as we did. Special thanks to Saroyah Mevorach (PR Coordinator) and of course, Alli Arnold for speaking with us. So if you happen to have at least a thousand dollars lying around that’s begging to be invested in some prime Potter estate, then certainly check out Auctionata this Monday. And if you’re interested in learning more about how to identify first editions, take a look at our own “Rare Books” section.