Rare Books

Most expensive sales from January to March 2023

Welcome to our most expensive sales in January, February and March 2023. This wide-ranging list of rare and collectible books includes a first edition Harry Potter, a collection of paintings from the Sistine Chapel, science fiction novels by Issac Asimov and Philip K. Dick, a classic spy novel by James Bond creator Ian Fleming, a first edition of Charles Dickens' novella, A Christmas Carol and many more.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling - $85,620

Harry Potter and Philosopher's Stone
This first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was once part of Edinburgh Public Library

This is a true first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone published by Bloomsbury in June 1997. Only 500 copies were printed, 200 of which were used to promote the book, and 300 of which were provided to libraries. This copy was originally owned by the Edinburgh Public Library. Edinburgh is Rowling’s hometown. She wrote this novel while sitting in various cafes around the Scottish city.

The book’s library card shows that it was borrowed 27 times between 15 December, 1997 until 12 October, 1999 before it was withdrawn from service. Those 27 readers were among the first people to experience the magic of Hogwarts.

This is a hardcover and was issued without a dust jacket. This copy has been restored and is housed in a full red leather box lined with black suede. The sale is our second most expensive sale of all time, and shows that the Harry Potter phenomenon, which began in 1997, has not diminished.

It is probably the most expensive online sale of a first edition of the Philosopher’s Stone. A first edition sold at auction for $471,000 in 2021.

AbeBooks sold another true first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for $37,000 in 2005 — that price now looks like a bargain.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling - $26,750

Harry Potter paperback
The first paperback edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Wait, there’s another one. This is one of the paperback first editions of the Philosopher's Stone, published later in 1997. Around 5,000 copies of this edition were printed.

This copy is inscribed by J.K. Rowling on the half-title page: 'To David & Jenny, J.K. Rowling'. Being a softcover, this book is creased and worn, and has clearly been read many times.

Any book signed by Rowling is valuable. Early in her career, she frequently signed copies. As the series grew in popularity, signing events became less frequent.

Ichthyology of South Carolina by John Edwards Holbrook - $26,000

Ichthyology of South Carolina
A disastrous fire in the Artists Building in Philadelphia destroyed all the plates, stones, and original drawings of the first edition of this book.
Michael D. Stubblefield

This book by the American zoologist John Edwards Holbrook is rare because a disastrous fire in the Artists Building in Philadelphia destroyed all the plates, stones, and original drawings in the first edition of the book.

This volume of the Ichthyology of South Carolina was published between 1855 and 1857 (in ten parts). Holbrook temporarily abandoned the project.

The second edition, with the text reworked and all the plates redrawn, was published in 1860.

The Sistine Chapel by Vatican Museums - $22,000

This luxury three-volume elephant folio-sized art book includes 1:1 scale images of the masterpieces by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and other Renaissance artists. It was created after two photographers took more than 270,000 images over 65 consecutive nights while the Sistine Chapel was closed to visitors — a photographic assignment of biblical proportions. A 33-foot-tall scaffold — which was constructed and taken apart each night — helped the photographers get close to the famous art decorating the walls and ceiling.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming - $21,870

Casino Royale
A first edition of Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

A first edition of Ian Fleming’s classic James Bond thriller was published in 1953 by Jonathan Cape. This is a former library book and its all-important dust jacket has been beautifully restored.

Casino Royale is one of the most collectible of twentieth century novels because it launched the 007 phenomenon. Copies of this novel regularly appear on our expensive sales lists.

Der Hungern Chronica by Janos Thuroczy - $20,580

Der Hungern Chronica translates from German as "Chronicle of the Hungarians". It was published in 1534 in Vienna and describes Hungarian medieval history. Originally published in Latin in 1488, this is a first German edition. It contains all five books of the chronicle in a single volume. It begins with the uprising of the Huns in 373 A.D. and ends with the death of King Louis II of Hungary in the battle of Mohács against the Ottomans in 1526.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft - $17,680

This book, published in 1792 by British advocate of women’s rights, Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest and most influential works on feminist philosophy. This was a first edition, bound in leather.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick - $17,195

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
A true first edition with an unrestored original dust jacket

One of the most famous novels by Philip K. Dick, this book was the basis for the movie Blade Runner. This copy of a true first edition is special because of the condition of the book and the dust jacket and its vibrant, unfaded colors.

The novel is about a bounty hunter who tracks tracks down escaped androids in a post-apocalyptic future. This book belongs to our list of 50 must-read science fiction books.

Recently, another copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was sold. That book came with an original letter, typed and signed by the author, along with a humorous self-review of another of his own novels, The Divine Invasion.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - $16,000

A Christmas Carol
A rare first edition of A Christmas Carol published in 1843

This is a first edition, first printing by Chapman & Hall from 1843 bound in red morocco leather. A Christmas Carol was published on December 19, 1843 and became an instant bestseller.

This novella helped craft the modern version of Christmas with its focus on family, food, and giving. Scrooge has entered the lexicon for anyone who is tight-fisted. AbeBooks sold another first edition of this book, accompanied by a Dickens letter in 2022 for $20,000.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov - $15,000

I Robot
A first edition of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Published by Gnome Press in 1950, this is a signed first edition of Asimov’s I, Robot, a collection of short stories. These stories originally appeared in the American magazines Super Science Stories and Astounding Science Fiction between 1940 and 1950.

Isaac Asimov was one of the three most influential authors of hard science fiction during his lifetime, along with Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.

The Foundation series is arguably his defining work. It started as short stories published in Astounding Magazine with Asimov turning them into three books in the 1950s – Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. The Foundation series has recently been adapted into an Apple TV show.

Smith of Wootton Major by J. R. R. Tolkien - $15,000

Smith of Wooton Major
Signed by J. R. R. Tolkien

This novella by J. R. R. Tokien was first published in 1967. This is a first US edition, signed by Tolkien.

In Smith of Wootton Major, Tolkien explores the gift of fantasy, and what it means to the life and character of the men who receives it. The story is not connected to the Middle-earth legendarium.

The J.R.R. Tolkien literary landscape is huge and constantly evolving. Discover our guide to collecting J.R.R. Tolkien's books.

Whispers From Eternity by Paramahansa Yogananda – $12,500

Whispers from Eternity
Whispers from Eternity by Paramahansa Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda was an Indian Hindu guru who introduced meditation and yoga to millions of Americans. This is an inscribed copy of a collection of mantras. Whispers from Eternity was self-published by Yogananda’s Self-Realization Publishing House in Los Angeles in 1944. Yogananda settled in America and became so well-known that he was even a guest of President Calvin Coolidge at the White House in 1927. Paramahansa Yogananda effectively launched American yoga culture.

Tax stamp (two shillings and six pence) - $12,000

Stamp tax
A tax stamp from 1765 used in Britain's American colonies.

This is a rare tax stamp from 1765 when Britain was attempting to raise revenue from its American colonies. A tax was levied on all paper goods including birth, marriage, and death certificates, and other printed materials such as newspapers and pamphlets. The legislation required that, starting in 1765, paper materials must carry a tax stamp. Agents would collect tax in exchange for the stamp.

Artis Magnae Artilleriae by Kazimierz Sirmienowicz - $12,000

Artis Magnae Artilleriae
The fascinating pyrotechnic machines devised for entertainment

Kazimierz Siemienowicz (1600-51) was a general of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an expert of artillery and military engineering, and a pioneer of rocketry. Based on long-standing experience, Artis Magnae Artilleriae was an encyclopaedia of artillery and pyrotechnics.

Wormser Bibel - $10,600

The Wormser Bible was the first Protestant edition of the Bible to be printed in German. It was published by Peter Schöffer in the city of Worms in 1529. It contains the new and old testaments in one volume. This copy appears to have been rebound in the nineteenth century.


More beautiful books

By Sandra Hindman
January 24, 2022
Books of Hours were medieval bestsellers. Sandra Hindman, an expert on medieval manuscripts, explains why these books were, and still are, so important.
8 Min Read
By Richard Davies
February 23, 2022
The Grand Budapest Hotel was one of the most successful movies of 2014. But are you aware of the inspiration for this film?
1 Min Read
By Julie Oreskovich
March 23, 2022
The New Naturalist Series is an on-going series of books published by Collins that focuses on natural history. The series, famous for its dust jacket designs, began in 1945 with Butterflies by E.B. Ford and more than 100 titles have been published.
2 Min Read