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UBC library nabs U.K. first edition of Harry Potter novel for the magical price of $36k

Potter collection materials on display this weekend at VSO concerts

What do librarians do when they score a rare U.K. first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone?

In the case of UBC librarians, they do an “internal happy dance,” and then share their find with the larger public.

That’s what’s happening this weekend when the book, which the library picked up for about US$36,000 through a dealer last November, as well as other material from the library's Harry Potter collection, will be on display March 9 to 11 during Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performances of the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the Orpheum. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the last book the library needed to complete its U.K. set of the series.

The Rare Books and Special Collections department at the library has an extensive Harry Potter collection. This weekend's display at the Orpheum will feature part of it, including:

  • the U.K. first edition of the Philosopher's Stone
  • the U.S. first edition of the Sorcerer's Stone
  • the proof copy and advance reader copy of those titles
  • some recent 20th anniversary editions of the Philosopher's Stone, which feature the different house colours.
  • 17th, 18th and 19th century natural history medical books from the library's extensive William C. Gibson History of Medecine and Science Collection, featuring illustrations of dragons and merpeople — the type of books that would have inspired J.K. Rowling when she created the wizarding world
  • materials on loan from the UBC Quidditch team and the Vancouver Vipertooths Quidditch team
  • a selection of editions of Goblet of Fire to feature the different illustrators who have created cover designs over the past 20 years, as well as a few foreign language editions of Goblet of Fire.

Chelsea Shriver, the rare books and special collections librarian at UBC, said the library had been trying to find a U.K. first-edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that was within budget since 2015 when it first began collecting the series.

Auction prices had been prohibitively expensive, starting at about US$50,000. At an auction the library watched last September, but didn’t participate in, one went for about US$81,000.

Fortunately, through a dealer in New York, the library identified a copy in a private collection that someone was interested in parting with.

“How did we celebrate? We’re pretty busy so any celebration has to be a bit abbreviated but we did sort of do an internal little happy dance,” Shriver said. “I know our colleague in technical services, which actually places the orders, was very thrilled for us and the head of our unit’s boss was also thrilled for us because they knew this had been a journey that had gone on a long time.”

 

harry potter book
UBC Library's Rare Books and Special Collections department recently picked up a U.K. first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Photo Courtesy of University of British Columbia

 

UBC’s copy of the Philosopher’s Stone is an ex-library copy, one of 300 or so books out of the 500 first printed in the U.K. that initially went into a library but at some point was weeded out.

It has a stamp in it and other things that might make it less attractive to a collector looking for the “finest of fine” copies,” Shriver said. “But for teaching purposes and to make sure we have this available for future events, exhibitions and researchers, it’s perfect.”

Once the material being displayed on the weekend returns to the library, anyone can request to look at it in the library's reference room. Anyone not affiliated with UBC can do so as well by filling out a simple registration form to get a free patron card, Shriver added.

(The library's overall Harry Potter collection includes first-edition sets of the series from the U.K., U.S. and Canada, as well as some foreign language editions — Philosopher's Stone in Irish and Welsh, for example, and a full set of Russian first editions donated by a UBC faculty member. It also features recently published illustrated editions and a number of special or deluxe editions, which have come out over the past 20 years, as well as an uncorrected proof of Philosopher's Stone and an advance reader copy of Sorcerer's Stone. In addition, the library has a paperback of Philosopher's Stone that was once owned by the young woman who was actress Emma Watson's body double for the first three films, and which was signed by the main cast of the films.)

Read more about UBC library's rare book and special collections department here.

noconnor@vancourier.com

@naoibh