A story that has captured the hearts of generations around the world, J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone' represents the humble beginning of a truly magical journey. One of the few first edition copies of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, inscribed and signed by J.K. Rowling was sold by Lyon & Turnbull auctioneers in Edinburgh on June 17 for £125,000. The price is a new European auction record.
This copy, surviving in fine condition, attracted competitive bidding from across the globe before selling to an international buyer at a price very close to the world record for a copy of The Philosopher’s Stone.
In the market for British ‘modern firsts’, Harry Potter is followed closely by 007. Sold at £30,000 was a first edition, first impression of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel – Casino Royale. Published in 1953, this copy was highly prized for the survival of its first state dust jacket printed without the Sunday Times review that appeared on slightly later copies. The jacket had not been price clipped and showed only minor signs of wear.
This strong price follows the world auction record achieved for Fleming’s Casino Royale in our October 2019 Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs at £55,000.
More than 1100 registered bidders from across the globe for this £500,000 sale that found buyers for 82% of the 391 lots on offer.
Among the most historically important in the sale was a remarkable diplomatic letter from Thomas Cromwell regarding the furtherance of the fourth of Henry VIII’s marriages. Estimated at up to £4,500, it sold at £25,000.
Probably penned by Cromwell in the spring of 1539, in this two page document to his "very loving and assured Frend [..] doctor Wotton the Kinges ambassador in the parties of Germany" he writes to the diplomat Nicholas Wotton in the hope of engineering a match between the king and Anne of Cleves.
Cromwell – who had overseen the seismic religious reforms that followed Henry's break with Rome and establishment of the Church of England – was eager to form an alliance with the Protestant princes of Germany and instructs Wotton to negotiate with the Duke of Cleves. It reads: "...I have directyed my lettres of congratulacion to my ladie Anne's grace... I doubte not you wool set forth the kinges Majestes presentes with goode and modest woords as the same..."
The letter was once part of the important manuscript collection at Towneley Hall, Lancashire, which was dispersed across a series of sales beginning in the 1880s.
A private collection devoted to Robert Burns reached nearly £60,000, led by two autographed letters. Sold at £11,250 were two pages referencing perhaps his finest poetic creation, Tam o'Shanter: a Tale that was first published alongside an engraving of Alloway Auld Kirk in The Antiquities of Scotland (1791). Once accompanied by the manuscript itself, the note dated December 1, 1790 was penned by Burns from Ellisland Farm to the antiquarian Captain Francis Grose (1731-91).
He modestly says: “I am not, God knows, vain of my composition, and if you like intellectual food more substantial than the whipt syllabub of epistolary compliment.” He then refers to “one of the Aloway Kirk stories, done in Scots verse” adding “Should you think it worthy a place in your Scots Antiquities, it will lengthen not a little the altitude of my Muse's pride.”
Burns’s famously turbulent romantic affairs were the subject of another letter, sold at £12,500, written to his friend James Smith in Mauchline on August 1, 1786. It references his rocky courtship of local girl Jean Armour who at the time was pregnant with twins but deemed an unsuitable match for a poor ploughman. Burns – who was also considering elopement to Jamaica with another girl Mary Campbell - writes: "Against two things however, I am fix'd as Fate: staying at home and owning her conjugally. - The first, by Heaven I will not do!. The last, by Hell, I will never do!" Ultimately the plan for a West Indian expedition was shelved and Burns finally married Jean in 1788, with whom he had nine children.