Harry Potter as Timeless Classic – and Investment

The three quick but fail-proof tests of an English fiction ‘classic’ or ‘great book’ according to C. S. Lewis are “Does it make you better, wiser, and happier?’ with the necessary follow-up ‘Do you like it?’ (because if you don’t like it, the book’s no good). Those are grand tests on a personal and subjective level (and perhaps that is the only one that matters). Establishing a standard that can be shared universally requires a historical review. I assume that the qualities of proven English ‘greats’ provides a dependable test of future or possible ‘greats;’ it seems, then, that there are four shared qualities in English classics, namely, remaining in print for more than a century, asking the great questions about human life, offering Christian answers, and presenting these answers with artistry that fosters their experience and assimilation by a reader suspending disbelief.

Perhaps the acid test of a “classic,” though, is in monetary value (“follow the money”). Harry Potter has passed three of the four of the English classic criteria — failing only the ‘century in print’ standard — and passes Lewis’ ‘better, wiser, happier, and delighted’ litmus. Data from 2008 online booksellers now reveals that Ms. Rowling’s Hogwarts adventures also has become an investor’s classic and tough times hedge.

AbeBooks.com, an internet consortium of the world’s biggest and best private booksellers, has published their list of the most expensive book sales at their site in 2008. A first edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban autographed by author and illustrator weighed in at #3 on the chart with a selling price of $12,874. It turns out “the first issue has a misaligned block of text which was corrected in the subsequent issues,” which errata with the autographs made this one book especially valuable to collectors.

The list is a wonderful look into the word of book collectors. Check out #8 on the list, for instance: “Grimms Fairy Tales by Jakob & Wilhelm Grimm – $11,388. A first edition, first issue copy of these famous fairy tales, including 22 etched plates by George Cruikshank. It is housed in a clamshell box.” The collector is looking for pristine condition, artistry within and without (hurrah, Cruikshank and clamshell box!), as well as historical importance and fame.

Much more significant for us and our looking for some sign that Harry will last out the century (to clear that final hurdle) is that in the sub-categories of most valuable sales, AbeBooks gives Ms. Rowling’s novels their own category. She is the only author with her own division which reflects the value investors put in her work.

Your thoughts?


  1. I think that the last hurdle for Classic status of JKR’s books will not be a problem. I’m sure there are some skeptics that think the HP Mania will die down and the books will be forgotten. And I may agree with the HP Mania eventually dying down. But there is a difference between the Mania and the longevity of the stories and what they have to offer. Still today, being a Potter fan (or pundit) is somewhat fashionable. But eventually, the die hard pundits (by which I mean, of course, US!) will pull back into our own little subculture while the rest of the world gets Manic over the next big thing. That is, until Hogwarts is ‘rediscovered’ because of the books 100th anniversary, or the passing of a significant date (the Epilogue at King’s Cross station), or something similar. I believe we’ll see some sort of ebb before the HP series gets the official “Classic” status. Then there will be Potter Mania all over again.

  2. Arabella Figg says

    I agree, tc. I think the HP books will remain steadily read books (by kids), but the heavy fandom will die down. At some point, the books will reemerge as heavy hitters again. See fluctuations in LotR. When they reemerge, though, people will be grateful for the scrupulous scholarship laid down by John and others.

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