There are two kinds of people in this world — those who love books and can’t get enough even though their bookshelves and boxes in their basements and attics are filled with them. Or those who don’t care and can’t wait to unload the books they’ve somehow accumulated over the years.
Either way, some of those books that have been sitting on a shelf somewhere forever may be quite valuable.
Here are just a few of them:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
By J.K. Rowling
British publishers Bloomsbury released the first book in the Harry Potter series in June 1997. Only 500 copies were printed during its initial run, with 300 of those going to libraries and schools across the United Kingdom. The first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the only book in the series that credits Joanne Rowling as its author (J.K. Rowling’s birth name before she took a pen name) and a print line number that reads, “10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1.” The American edition released in 1998 removed the “Joanne Rowling” author credit and also changed its title to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. First editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone can fetch about $40,000 to $55,000 at auction, depending on its condition.
By Ian Fleming
Author Ian Fleming released Casino Royale, the first novel in what would be the James Bond book series in April 1953. The title’s initial run was a big success with British publishers Jonathan Cape printing more than 4,700 copies. Casino Royale sold out in a matter of a few months, as the demand for more adventures with James Bond grew in the United Kingdom. Casino Royale became a rare first edition due to its dust jacket, which is nearly impossible to keep in near mint condition. A copy in good condition can get more than $40,000, while pristine copies can garner $130,000.
The Canterbury Tales
By Geoffrey Chaucer
In 1998, a first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales sold at auction at Christie’s in London. A billionaire philanthropist named Sir Paul Getty bought the English masterpiece for £4.6 million (about $11.2 million today). Earl Fitzwilliam of the County of Tyrone first acquired the copy that was auctioned off at a sale of John Radcliffe’s library at Christie’s in 1776. He originally paid £6 million(about $7.75 million today) for the first edition. Book printer William Caxton made the first edition of The Canterbury Tales in 1477. There are only 12 copies still in existence.
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Before J.R.R. Tolkien released his epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings, he wrote a smaller fantasy novel for children called The Hobbit in 1937. It would be the precursor and blueprint for what would later become the trilogy — with its first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, released 17 years later in 1954. The London publishers of The Hobbit, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., printed only 1,500 copies for its initial run. The children’s book quickly sold out three months after its release. However, newer editions would also be rare to come across at the time, due to a paper shortage caused by rationing during World War II. Since it’s so limited, a first edition copy in near-perfect condition runs about $65,000.
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald
The first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with the original dust jacket is a rare book to track down. It wasn’t a best-seller
when it was released in 1925 with only about 25,000 copies sold by the time of the author’s death in 1940. However, a first edition with the dust jacket can get up to $194,000. If you have a first edition, look for a typo on the back of the dust jacket: “jay Gatsby” with a lowercase “j.” This spelling error was corrected by hand with ink or a stamp.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
By Beatrix Potter
Before the first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit was released, its author Beatrix Potter commissioned a private publishing of the now iconic children’s book a year earlier in 1901. Only 250 copies were printed for friends and family, as one of these rare copies sold at auction for £43,400 (about $56,124) in 2016.
By Charles Dickens
British publishing house Chapman & Hall released the first edition of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, who was a master at procrastinating, in three volumes throughout 1861. While a complete set in pristine condition is hard to come by, a first edition set from its initial run sold at auction for $137,500 at Sotheby’s in 2008. Great Expectations is so popular that the desk Charles Dickens wrote the novel sold at auction for $850,000 at Christie’s auction house in the same year.
Rare, out-of-print books people may find on their shelves, at thrift stores and garage sales
Rage by Stephen King (Richard Bachman): Rage was written while King was in his late teens and concerned a high school student who kills his teacher and takes his algebra class hostage. By 1997, at least three adolescents who had brought weapons to school and killed or injured classmates had admitted to reading the book or had it found in their possession; one said he modeled his behavior directly after the book’s lead character. A distraught King convinced his publisher that the book was a “possible accelerant” and had no place on shelves. They complied; King has said that “I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.” Today, the book is selling for about $600. There is another book jacket, yellow with a teen boy sitting in a chair.
Promise Me Tomorrow by Nora Roberts: While Roberts might not be as celebrated as King, her success in the romance genre is impressive by any measure. As of 2011, she had over 400 million books in print. The lone exception: Promise Me Tomorrow, a title she wrote early on in her career. Though Roberts had already finished well over 20 books by the time Promise Me Tomorrow was released, it doesn’t appear she’s eager for people to revisit it. In 2009, Roberts told The New Yorker that it was full of clichés and committed the most egregious of romance-novel sins: an unhappy ending. Today the book is selling for anywhere from $85 to $400.