In July 1998, one year after the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the United Kingdom but before its release in the United States of America, the first book by J.K. Rowling was published in Germany by Carlsen Verlag, one of the biggest publishers in that country. Like all German edition Harry Potter books that followed later, it was illustrated by Sabine Wilharm and translated by Klaus Fritz. No one knew at this point what a huge hype this story was going to be, but it is suggested that Carlsen had the rights to translate and publish the books very early on, before the huge success of Harry Potter and thus, they had more freedom for the creative aspects (such as cover illustrations) and the marketing of the books than other publishers.
And this would explain how we came to the four rare books in Germany. As the hype became bigger for the fourth volume, for the first time there was an online poll on Carlsen’s website: the readers had the chance to vote for their favourite cover, and the winning cover was going to be the one used in the printed book. Three years later the hype came to the next level with the fifth book Harry Potter und der Orden des Phönix: Reading nights, competitions, magic shows, costume contests and of course the midnight book sale. And this time again, an online poll to choose the winning cover.
With this growing hype we come to the four very rare Potter books by Carlsen. Three of them were intended for booksellers (as a thanks for their work in helping with the Harry Potter success in Germany) and one was raffled off in a competition organized by Carlsen and the newspaper Bild.
The first German bookseller edition was made for the fifth novel, “Der Orden des Phönix”. The bookseller edition carries a brown jacket that hides the final cover that was used in the regular edition. A bookseller once told me that these books were in the showcases and/or the shop window before it was published in order to increase the excitement of the book and the final cover until midnight. Also they were meant as a thank you to the booksellers. You can find inside a printed message from the author J.K. Rowling to the booksellers in the first pages as an intro note, including a facsimile of her signature.
The second bookseller edition was made for the sixth book, but this time was different. People had the option to vote for two options for the final cover. This time, the cover that did not get enough votes was used in the bookseller edition in a creative way. The final cover was still used in the book, but the dustjacket was made with the cover that did not get enough votes. However, since this dustjacket shows the Astronomy Tower in the final chapters of the book, the fall of Dumbledore was digitally removed in the dust jacket to avoid a major spoiler! As it happened with the previous book, this one includes a facsimile signature of J.K. Rowling and a message thanking (again) the booksellers for their hard work.
The last book in the series, Harry Potter und die Heiligtümer des Todes, had two rare editions that are sought after for Harry Potter collectors.
The first one was again an edition made specially for booksellers. This time, like for the fifth book, the brown dust jacket covered the final cover (and the style was very similar to the one for Harry Potter 5). However, it did not include a message by J.K. Rowling for the booksellers, only a bookplate where the reader could write their name on it.
The other edition for the seventh book is the rarest of the four, and the hardest to acquire for any collector who wants to put their hands on it. As with the previous books, Carlsen allowed fans to vote for their favourite cover to be used in the printed book. However, this time there was a small difference. The poll was organized with the German newspaper Bild, and it was possible to vote online or via a phone call (you had to pay 50 cents for the call). Those who voted via a phone call entered a fantastic giveaway: the chance to win one of the 100 copies that Carslen did with a special dust jacket. Why a special dust jacket? Because this dust jacket had the loser cover that did not get enough votes. As if this was not enough, these copies were signed by the illustrator Sabine Wilharm and also came with a letter by the publishing house.
I personally looked for this book for years and it was my longest search ever since I am a collector. I was about to give up on this book when a woman contacted me and offered to sell it to me. I was fortunate enough that the woman not only had the book in pristine condition, but also the envelope and the original letter that came with it, so I am now a happy owner of this rare German book (and the other three rare editions as well).
Unfortunately there is not too much information available about these editions, and the publisher did not respond when contacted requesting to know how many bookseller editions were printed, but all three are very rare to see even in Germany. I would say especially The Order of the Phoenix and The Deathly Hallows are even more rare to see than The Half-Blood Prince. One can only guess, but I’d say that the brown jackets were perceived as uninteresting and many were discarded. Getting these three bookseller books can take a very long time and if you see one available you should be very fast to buy it before someone else does.
This is the story of the four German rare editions that I personally find very unique. There were no other countries with cover votings, bookseller editions and contests like these ones, where fans were able to vote for the final cover to be used in the Harry Potter books.
You can follow Christina E. on Instagram. Her account is @wunnersteen.