Featured in the February 2023 issue of The Rowling Library Magazine.

The Fifteen Red Leather Copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

783 words.


In 2012, Bloomsbury, the British publisher of the iconic Harry Potter series, marked the 15th anniversary of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, with a special contest for fans. The prize was a limited edition of the book, with only 15 copies in existence, each one leather-bound and signed by author JK Rowling. For years, the public could only imagine what these copies might look like, but finally, one has made its way to auction.

Fans could only enter the competition by submitting their letters through post boxes at participating bookshops and libraries. The challenge was to write a letter of no more than 50 words, and entrants were encouraged to get creative with drawings and elaborate designs.

Rare copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Rare copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Unlike regular copies of the book, this edition was not available for purchase and only 15 copies were ever produced. One of the winners of this coveted prize was Chloe Esslemont, a 16-year-old school girl at The Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton, Cumbria. Chloe’s love for the Potter series was evident in the letter she submitted, expressing why she adored the books and their intricate details that became significant in later novels. Her striking entry and imaginative art earned her a spot as one of 14 runners-up, each receiving a copy of the special 15th anniversary edition.

Since then, and because the lucky owners decided to not do it, photos of the special edition remained unseen – until now. In December 2022, Chloe’s copy went up for auction, offering a glimpse into the elusive anniversary edition. As a fan since the age of five, Chloe has seen the Harry Potter phenomenon grow and evolve, but her passion for the books remains unchanged. She says of her decision to sell the book, “the money would be useful now.” Chloe’s winning entry demonstrated her deep love for the series, and her appreciation for the “insignificant things proving very significant later.”

The winner of the auction, who has chosen to remain anonymous, acquired the book for an astonishing £10,000. However, as he is a friend of The Rowling Library, we were privileged with exclusive access to the book, as well as newly obtained photos and information regarding the winning entry from 2012.

This special edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is bound in luxurious red leather and boasts gilded edges. The cover showcases gold embossing of the book’s title, the iconic Hogwarts crest, and the signature of J.K. Rowling. The spine of the book is equally impressive, featuring the title and a smaller version of the author’s signature, making it the only edition in existence with her signature on it.

Rare copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Rare copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The attention to detail extends to the inside of the book, which has the same layout and content as the standard Bloomsbury edition of Philosopher’s Stone. Moreover, this particular copy is in impeccable condition, as it has remained unread since it was awarded as a prize in 2012.

It’s not surprising that this special edition has remained largely unknown, as it was not included in official bibliographies by Peter Errington. It is also noteworthy that this limited edition of only 15 copies has its own ISBN, further emphasizing its rarity and significance. The fact that this edition is so limited, with only 15 copies in existence, makes it a truly exclusive and highly sought-after item for Harry Potter fans.

Rare copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Rare copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Last, but not least, let’s not forget that this special edition represents not just a physical artifact, but a cultural touchstone. The Harry Potter books have become a global phenomenon, inspiring countless fans. These fifteen copies are a testament to the enduring appeal of the books, and the love and passion they evoke in their fans. They are a symbol of the connection between reader and author, a tangible link to the creative process that brought Harry Potter to life. To own one of these rare books is to own a piece of literary and cultural history, a symbol of the power of imagination and storytelling.

Thanks to the generous winner of the auction, we now have a better understanding of this unique and rare piece of Harry Potter history. Whether displayed on a bookshelf or carefully preserved in an attic, this book is sure to be treasured for years to come, a testament to the lasting appeal of J.K. Rowling’s magical world of Harry Potter.

Chloe’s entry