Communion Of Dreams


Binding “Beedle”
December 14, 2007, 11:33 am
Filed under: Amazon, Art, Book Conservation, Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling, Jeff Bezos, Promotion, Publishing, Society

Multiple friends sent me notes about the auction of J.K. Rowling‘s Tales of Beedle the Bard, which sold at auction yesterday for almost $4 million, proceeds of which are going to charity. This was undoubtedly because the book touches on a number of my interests and profession – if you haven’t seen the thing yet, it is worth looking at. Rowling created seven copies of the book, writing and illustrating the text herself.

Unfortunately, but not terribly surprisingly, I have yet to find any mention of who did the binding work, or created the silver bosses and clasp used. The artisans who executed this work did a fine job, based on what I’ve been able to tell from the images available, and it would be nice to see at least some acknowledgment of them.

There is already some discussion of the “value” of the book, as an artifact, due to the price it sold for. And that is understandable, since $4 million is a chunk of change, and most authors, artists and artisans will never see their work command such a price. I have been involved in many projects of this nature, creating custom bindings of personal texts, or very limited editions, or a commemorative binding. And never has my work commanded more than a few hundred dollars. I’d be willing to bet the same was the case with the remuneration paid to the artisans who did the binding for these seven copies of Beedle. And certainly J.K. Rowling doesn’t command millions for her calligraphy or illustration work, as nice as it is.

So, why the price? Reports indicate that it was expected that the book would auction for something on the order of $100,000. What caused the book to sell for 40 times that amount?

Well, it is likely that it was a unique combination of events. Most of all, J.K. Rowling’s reputation meant that the sale would attract attention. No doubt Amazon.com (and Jeff Bezos) felt that the purchase would be well worth it, just in terms of the free publicity and good will that it would generate for the company. And the money was going to charity, so that doesn’t hurt. Chances are, if someone who owns one of the other six copies of this book were to put it up for sale privately, it would not attract that kind of money – not at this time, anyway. In another generation or two, it is likely that whenever one of these books is sold it’ll fetch quite a high price.

Because that is how these things work. Initially, there is surprise – but over the long term the thing which will be remembered is that the first book sold for millions. With only seven original copies, each one will be seen as precious – purely because one already sold at auction for millions. Whether she meant to do so or not, J. K. Rowling has just made the other owners of these books (or at least their heirs) wealthy. I hope they each get a decent insurance policy and a fireproof safe.

Jim Downey


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[…] Via just about everywhere: the ‘Collector’s Edition‘ of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling.  I suppose if you sell as many books as Rowling does, an edition of 100,000 can be considered ‘limited for collectors’.   If anyone spends $100.00 on this book for me I will kick them.  Oh, I’ve written about Beedle before. […]

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[…] written about these custom bindings before, as well as the collector’s edition.  But still, it is rather […]

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