Rare Hand-Illustrated J.K. Rowling Book Could Top $600,000 at Auction

There are only seven copies in the world.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling with The Tales of Beedle the Bard in 2008.Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling with The Tales of Beedle the Bard in 2008.
Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images.

Sotheby’s is offering Harry Potter fans the chance to own perhaps the most-coveted book from the series: a handwritten and illustrated copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, given as a gift by author J.K. Rowling to one of her earliest supporters.

The house is predicting a £500,000 ($624,000) sale, reports the Telegraph.

In 2007, following the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in the wildly-popular fantasy series, Rowling teased the world by making available just seven copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The new volume offered an irresistible return to the now-completed series, but fans had no immediate treatment for their acute Harry Potter withdrawal.

Only one of the books was put up for sale, at a Sotheby’s auction benefiting Rowling’s charity Lumos, with the author presenting the other six as gifts to people who played an important role in the publication of the books. (Appropriately, the number seven plays an important role in the seven-book series.)

J.K. Rowling, Tales of Beedle the Bard. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

J.K. Rowling, Tales of Beedle the Bard. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Each copy was bound in brown Moroccan leather and bejeweled with different varieties of semiprecious stones set in hand-chased silver ornaments by Edinburgh silversmith Hamilton & Inches. The copy for sale features rhodochrosite stones, which, according to a note from Rowling  are “traditionally associated with love, balance and joy in daily life.”

At the December 13, 2007, auction, Amazon snagged the coveted moonstone volume, after a six-person bidding war, for £1.95 million ($3.985 million), an auction record for a contemporary literary manuscript. That massive price tag suggests that auction house’s estimate for the upcoming sale is quite conservative. 

Amazon Japan president Jasper Cheung shows off JK Rowling's hand-drawn illustrations in a limited-edition copy of <em>The Tales of Beedle the Bard</em>, won by Amazon in a 2008 Sotheby's auction. Courtesy of Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images.

Amazon Japan president Jasper Cheung shows off JK Rowling’s hand-drawn illustrations in a limited-edition copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, won by Amazon in a 2008 Sotheby’s auction. Courtesy of Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images.

Though Rowling initially maintained that she had no intention of publishing Beedle the Bard more widely, she relented a year later. The book was released in both standard and limited editions, the latter selling for £50 ($100) exclusively on Amazon. The 100,000 run has since sold out, with copies currently going for over $200 on eBay.

The copy going up for auction is the one given to Barry Cunningham, the first editor for the Harry Potter books. It features a personalized inscription from Rowling reading “To Barry, the man who thought an overlong novel about a boy wizard in glasses might just sell… THANK YOU.” The other five recipients of the handwritten manuscript remain anonymous, save for Rowling’s Scholastic editor, Arthur A. Levine.

Cunningham has announced plans to donate some of the sale’s proceeds to Lumos, Rowling’s charity. “It was an amazing and totally unexpected gift,” he told the Telegraph. “It’s absolutely breathtakingly wonderful, and I now want to make sure I can do good with it.”

J.K. Rowling, Tales of Beedle the Bard. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

J.K. Rowling, Tales of Beedle the Bard. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A selection of five fairy tales told to young wizards in the Harry Potter universe (one of the stories, “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” featured prominently in the plot of Deathly Hallows), Beedle the Bard stands alone from the rest of the series in its more childlike approach.

“When I conceived the idea of writing The Tales of Beedle the Bard in full, I was intrigued to discover how wizarding fairy-tales would differ from those told to muggle children,” said Rowling in a statement upon the book’s initial release. “In the latter, witches and wizards are relegated to walk-on, if pivotal, roles; within The Tales of Beedle the Bard, they themselves are the heroes and heroines… writing it has been the most wonderful way to say goodbye to a world I loved and lived in for seventeen years.”


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