Library Attempts to Claim First-Edition “Harry Potter” Book After It Sold at Auction

In a recent turn of events, an auctioned Harry Potter book is now the subject of an ownership dispute. A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone went up for auction in Dallas, Texas, and sold to a buyer in Tennessee. The buyer, who remained anonymous, purchased the copy for $55,000. Normally, the story would end there and the buyer would be the rightful owner of the book. However, a library in Portsmouth, England, is claiming it has ownership of the rare book.


Credit: Hansons Auctioneers


Portsmouth City Council Library Service says it has claim over the book for one simple reason: the stamp on the inside of the copyright page. If you’ve ever checked a book out of the library, a stamp will be there. Not only does it help library staff track the book’s progress as it moves from borrower to borrower, but also, in case it ever gets lost, the finder knows where to return it. Clearly, the stamp system seems to be working to an extent.


Credit: Hansons Auctioneers


According to the stamp in the book, the first and last time this copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was checked out was August 1997. After that, it may be a bit of a mystery. The library service says the book was returned from that checkout, but it wasn’t officially checked out after that. A representative from Portsmouth City Council Library Service explains:

Our records show that this book was originally owned by Portsmouth’s school library service and was one of three first editions we purchased in 1997 when the first Harry Potter story was published. In 2004, we sold two copies to raise funds for the library service, but the third copy was missing.

If you don’t know the rarity of this particular book and why the library is taking action to retrieve it, think about it this way: Only 500 hardcover first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were ever printed when the book was initially published in 1997. Most of them went to public schools and libraries. Right now, there is a fraction of that number of the same books out there. While some of them have gone through the auction process, the rest of the books’ existence may always remain a mystery.

But this event does raise some very interesting questions. Even after 23 years, does a library truly have a claim to a missing book? The buyer bought it at a legitimate auction for $55,000, so can anyone really blame them for saying they are indeed the new and rightful owner? And most importantly, what kind of ramifications does this have on previously auctioned books?

Heritage Auctions public relations director Eric Bradley had this to say on the subject.

People actually really cherish those stamps and markings because it sets a provenance for the book. If the Portsmouth library was interested in getting it back… I think it would set a precedent because I think it would be the first time a library took a serious case to reclaim a Harry Potter book. It would really open the floodgates for others who own the books.

Since the dispute is still ongoing, Heritage Auctions has not yet let the book move to the buyer of the auction. Instead, it will hold the book until rightful ownership is determined. The auction house also announced, “Heritage takes all claims of ownership very seriously, has retained possession of the book out of an abundance of caution, and is eager to engage further to resolve this issue.”

What do you think of this sticky situation? Drop us a line and let us know!


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