Interview SeriesNews

Interview with Adam Houston, “The Harry Potter Specialist”

March 1, 2022.
The Harry Potter Specialist - Adam Houston
The Harry Potter Specialist – Adam Houston

Can you introduce yourself for our readers? What’s your story as a collector?

My name is Adam Houston, I’m from the U.K. and I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since I first read the books as a child. I had previously collected other books but I purchased my first Harry Potter book back in 2015. I remember it was a pristine, first printing, first state, copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It wasn’t until the summer of 2017 though when I decided to exclusively focus on being a dedicated Harry Potter collector. I purchased a first printing paperback and second printing hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which were books that had been on my ‘want list’ for quite a while. At this point my goal was to complete a fine condition set of the Bloomsbury uncorrected proofs—including both states of Prisoner of Azkaban—which I was delighted to have achieved in back in 2019. To this day that proof set is one of only two collections in the world to have all the trial dust jackets present—including the ultra rare Prisoner of Azkaban trial jacket of which there are only two known in the world.

Since achieving my main goals I’ve focused more on building my collection of signed J. K. Rowling (Jo, to us) books. I’m currently in the process of putting together a catalogue which will hopefully be available for people to view on my website sometime soon. In collecting signed books, because of the unceasing proliferation of counterfeit J. K. Rowling signatures in the market, I made it my business to become as knowledgable as possible on her signature so I knew that what I was buying was authentic. This has really led me to where I am today in the collecting hobby. As a result of specialising in identifying Jo’s signature I’m pleased to say I’ve been able to help collectors, rare book dealers, and auction houses identify and remove counterfeit signatures from the market—and in some instances help collectors obtain refunds.

Why did you decide to start The Harry Potter Specialist?

The idea for The Harry Potter Specialist was born after I started to see, over the past year or so, a substantial increase in the number of counterfeit signatures appearing all over the market. Although there have always been people out there forging J. K. Rowling’s signature, the quantity and degree of sophistication of the new forgeries that were out there was starting to significantly increase. I could see that counterfeit signatures were becoming harder and harder to spot for the casual Harry Potter collector or rare book dealer and I found myself reaching out to more and more people—who I knew would want to know—to advise them that the signature they’d bought or had listed for sale was no good. I was getting more and more messages from collectors, dealers, and auction houses—one asked if they could run all their J. K. Rowling signatures by me—asking for my opinion on their signed Harry Potter books. Even rare book dealers who have dealt with Jo’s signature for many years were inadvertently offering for sale signatures many of us in the collecting community had seen before and knew were bogus—it felt like the last bastions of the authentic J. K. Rowling signature in the rare book trade were under threat. It was at this point I decided I needed, and could, do more and so I began work on starting The Harry Potter Specialist, the goal of which is to provide collectors, book dealers, auction houses, etc., with the highest degree of confidence possible that the signature they have, or are offering for sale, is authentic and at the same time help them avoid purchasing counterfeit examples. I launched the service just over a week ago at the website and I’ve been overwhelmed with how well it has gone. In this short space of time I’ve been able to prevent multiple collectors from wasting hundreds of pounds on forgeries and obtain refunds for books which they had previously bought.

Can you tell us about the services you’ll provide?

I offer a number of services on my website, all geared towards helping Harry Potter collectors navigate through this hobby in a safe and enjoyable way. My main services are with regards to J. K. Rowling signature authentication. I offer two:

(1) A Rapid Response Opinion – This is where anyone can send in a picture, or a link to a J. K. Rowling signature that they’ve found online, and they will receive an opinion as to the authenticity of the signature. This will be in the form of an email response sent as soon as possible following submission of the request.

(2) Full Authentication – This is where collectors can receive a letter of authenticity and a free Harry Potter Specialist collector card (like a catalogue description of their book) to confirm that their signed book has been fully evaluated and deemed authentic. Each letter will come with a certification code that the collector can verify on the Harry Potter Specialist website under the verification section.

In addition to these services I offer 30 minute and 60 minute consultation services via zoom, where we can discuss anything the collector would like support with in their journey. Topics for consultation can include, but aren’t limited to: goals for collecting; collecting on a budget; investing in Harry Potter books and investment grade pieces; current market dynamics; speculative purchases versus conservative purchases; ideas for sourcing hard to find items, and anything else they would like to discuss. I’m still very much a passionate Harry Potter collector, so I offer people an opportunity to sell books they may have. If it’s not something for me or I’m not able to buy it I will make suggestions on the best avenue to do so. In the coming months there will also be books for sale on the website, both signed and unsigned. These books will be my own personal items made available for collectors to purchase. I don’t offer valuation services.

As I said I only started offering these services just over a week ago and I’ve been delighted with the response I’ve had. Just one example, I was particularly happy when one collector, who had just won a book on eBay, contacted me through my ‘rapid opinion service’ to confirm whether it was indeed an authentic signature and I was able to tell them it wasn’t. He cancelled his order and reported the item to eBay. That for me is the perfect scenario, we’ve helped a collector save his money and reported the seller to relevant platform. I’m also pleased to say that The Harry Potter Specialist authentication service is the only third-party J. K. Rowling signature authentication service in the world approved by Peter Kenneth, The Potter Collector, and Carly Laminack, All The Pretty Books. Both of whom I’ve known and been friends with for many years and are also experts in Jo’s signature.

How do you envision The Harry Potter Specialist in a few years?

I would like to see The Harry Potter Specialist become recognised as the place to go to authenticate your J. K. Rowling signature. Unfortunately, many of the biggest third-party authentication companies have certified (as authentic) numerous counterfeit J. K. Rowling signatures. The simple reason for this is that they’re not specialists in her signature. The difference between The Harry Potter Specialist and these other companies is that we work with Jo’s signature on a daily bases. We have an extensive knowledge of her signature—in many instances we can narrow down a signature not just to a specific year or month but in some cases to a particular signing event—and a vast database of authentic examples which we use to compare.

In 2007 holograms first appeared in signed J. K. Rowling books at the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Unfortunately, these no longer provide the guarantee they used to as forgers have been able to successfully replicate them. Something else is needed. In the coming years I’d like the ‘something else’ to be the Harry Potter Specialist authentication service.

I’d like to see letters of authenticity provided by The Harry Potter Specialist become an established requirement for signed J. K. Rowling books to be sold at auction, much in the same way that a piece of artwork will not be accepted by the major auction houses unless it is found in the catalogue raisonné published by the person considered the expert on that artist. The unassailable reality at the moment, unfortunately, is that there are many (but not all) auction houses out there who appear content to list any signed Harry Potter book for sale without much regard for whether it’s authentic or not.

I’d like to see the website used by dealers across the rare book trade as a tool to help them avoid listing counterfeit signatures and provide only genuine articles for collectors. The big one, of course, would be eBay, if we could somehow pair with eBay to help rid the site of forgeries I think that would be a massive win for the Harry Potter collecting community. And finally, I suppose I’d like to see The Harry Potter Specialist be there as a friend to all genuine and honest Harry Potter collectors looking to pursue their passion for this hobby.

How would you describe the current state of the Harry Potter market for collectors?

That’s a good question, and one which could be looked at in a number of different ways. In one sense it’s a great market and I always tell new collectors to get involved in the market now. I’ve heard many say that they wish they’d gotten involved five years ago when prices were lower. Well, the collectors in five years time will be wishing they’d gotten involved now, so in my opinion, now is the best time to get involved in collecting Harry Potter books. On the flip side of that, it is concomitantly one of the most dangerous times to collect signed (by Jo) Harry Potter books because of the level of sophistication and detail that goes into the forgeries, and I know this scares many people off.

Many people have said before me that J. K. Rowling’s signature is quite possibly the most forged signature in the rare book market today. I believe that, and I know rare book dealers who have said that because of this they will no longer buy a signed J. K. Rowing book unless it is also inscribed (with additional writing by Jo). There are some who have said they won’t buy J. K. Rowling signed books at all out of fear of purchasing a forgery. This is a problem in two ways, (1) it means there’s a lack of confidence, even among those who’s livelihood depends on buying and selling books, in the J. K. Rowling signature market, and (2) this lack of confidence will drive down prices for authentic items, to the detriment of collectors. Here’s an example of what I mean, at one point a year or so ago I counted no fewer than ten signed copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on eBay—many with holograms, some even with supposed provenance—and many of them were selling for £300-£1,000. The problem was, not one of them was authentic. A signed copy of Deathly Hallows is a really rare book—Jo only signed around 1,700 at the midnight release in London—and has a retail value of around £3,000-4,500. Not much longer after I noticed this, an authentic signed copy from the midnight release event with a special inscription (not just a name) was put up for auction on eBay and it sold for just £1,200. That for me showed quite vividly how counterfeit signatures are impacting the market for collectors. It should have sold for a lot more. I hope that now, with a service like The Harry Potter Specialist available, the true scarcity of some of these signed books will be realised.

Why do you think there are so many forgeries out there?

The forgers only have one motive, and that’s the profit motive. There’s a voracious demand for signed Harry Potter books out there and collectors are being taken advantage of. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen not only counterfeit signatures, but counterfeit books, even books as low in value as £500. If some unscrupulous person recognises that by scribbling a signature in a book, no matter how bad, they can make £100 from it then they’re doing so.

Knowing that the money they’re stealing—because that’s what they’re doing—could have been from people looking to invest for their son or daughters college tuition, or from people looking to plan for their retirement, only for them to find years later that what they have is worthless, I have just one question for these forgers if they happen to be reading this, have they no sense of decency, have they no shame? This is an extreme case, but what about the mother who needs to pay medical expenses for her sick child and goes to the closet to get out the signed book she invested in years earlier only to then be told that the money she thought she could generate to save her sick child is no longer there? These people take outrageous, disgusting, human behaviour to unimaginable heights.

Now, why do I think there are so many sellers willing to defraud people in this way? Well, people talk about the inherent goodness of Man, they say things like, “deep down, most people are inherently good,” and I might agree with them up to a point, there are many wonderful people in this world. That is, however, until their own self-interest is at stake. At that point watch out, because when that happens people can not only turn bad but in many cases major, big-time, bad, even perversely or criminally so. (I could cite many examples of this but it is not the place to do so.) I say this not as an expert, but as an observer, as we all are, of the human condition.

What can the average Harry Potter and collector do to fight against them?

Well, firstly, I don’t think most Harry Potter collectors want to take up the fight against the forgers. From what I can see, the average collector just wants to enjoy their hobby. That isn’t a slight on collectors, they have every right to that and that’s what collecting is all about, enjoying owning these items. I’d like to say that if you spot any counterfeit signatures then you can do things like report them to eBay, but unfortunately eBay—like many other platforms—aren’t serious about doing anything to try and curb the relentless spread of fake J. K. Rowling signatures. AbeBooks doesn’t appear to be serious either. In my opinion, for the collector who is so inclined, the best thing to do is to educate themselves in Jo’s signature so they know what to look for. For the majority of collectors, however, who aren’t inclined or simply don’t have the time, that’s where a service, such as the one I’m offering through The Harry Potter Specialist, can offer some support. If we can get this service out there to the point where most collectors of signed J. K. Rowling books are aware of it and use it when they need to, I’m confident the market for counterfeit J. K. Rowling signatures will begin to wane. If any collectors reading this can share this on their social media accounts that would be of great encouragement and show we’re going in the right direction.

I’m trying to do more, I’m reaching out to book dealers—they typically don’t get involved in third-party authentication—to try and get this service out there more, I’m also reaching out to auction houses to supply Harry Potter Specialist letters of authenticity with their signed J. K. Rowling books. One auction house in the U.K. consults with me on J. K. Rowling signatures and will be offering my letters of authenticity to any clients consigning authentic signatures.

Any advice for future or current collectors of Harry Potter and JK Rowling?

Despite the situation with the counterfeit signatures, collecting Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling signed books can be an incredibly enjoyable endeavour. There’s something for everyone here, you don’t have to just collect signed books, you can collect translations or illustrated books, there are books available priced at £10 all the way to £500,000 so whether you’re collecting on a budget or looking for something more high-end, this hobby will have something for you. It’s full of many wonderful people who are happy to help guide you and there are now services to help collectors have renewed confidence in what they are buying. To anyone interested in collecting signed J. K. Rowling books I’d say don’t be deterred from participating in such a great hobby because of the risk out there. There’s always a degree of risk in anything worthwhile. Be smart in your collecting, and if there’s anything you need support with there will be someone around who has seen it or done it before and can help.

Remember you can follow Adam on Instagram and
do not forget to visit his website The Harry Potter Specialist.

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