Publishers never really know when a new author is going to turn into a literary star. For that reason, the initial print run of a book is small — maybe even just a few thousand copies. Once the novel gets popular, they’ll simply put out a second printing, then a third, or more as needed.
If you happened to catch the bandwagon early and bought a first edition, however, you might be holding on to an incredibly valuable piece of literature. That’s especially true once the novel is adapted into a movie or TV series, which reach a far larger audience than most books. “The book is a good book, but what people really remember is the movie,” says Ken Gloss, owner of Brattle Book Shop in Boston and an appraiser for Antiques Roadshow. So dust off the books in your basement or your parents’ attic, and see if you can get rich off any of the titles below.
1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)
Note that this is not the Americanized Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which was published in 1998 (although if you have one of those, it’s still worth up to $6,500). The Harry Potter series is a great example of how the increasing popularity of an author — leading to bigger initial publishing runs — leads to lower values on later novels. “They didn’t think this book was going to sell, so most of the copies went to libraries where they got read to pieces,” Gross says. But by the time Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, millions of readers ordered their copy well in advance. “Book 7 is basically a used book,” Gloss says.
2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
Price: $50,000 to $75,000
Tolkien's The Hobbit, along with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, spawned the entire modern fantasy genre. What’s more, the original green-and-blue dust jacket (if you can find one intact) is gorgeous, and the first UK edition contains fine illustrations and maps inside. The slimmer, earlier Hobbit, however, is regarded as a more desirable collectible — prices for a full set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy top out at only around $35,000.
3. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953)
Casino Royale is one of the later James Bond movies (unless you count the 1967 comedic version starring Peter Sellers), but it was Ian Fleming’s first novel about the superspy. Thanks to the immense and immensely popular James Bond movie series, Ian Fleming novels generate far more interest than the more thoughtful works of John Le Carré, even though many of those novels have also been adapted into several movies. “Le Carré I could have on the shelves for six months,” says Gloss. “James Bond sells as soon as someone finds out I have one.”
4. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)
Tarzan books (Burroughs published 26 of them, a few posthumously) are far more desirable than Burroughs’ Barsoom series about John Carter. While the 2012 John Carter movie is generally remembered as a flop, the John Carter books also inspired Star Wars and Avatar. At the same time, there have been around 200 Tarzan movies — another one starring Alexander Skarsgård was just released this year.
5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)
The Orchard Keeper is the first book by the author of No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses, and tends to sell for more because of its rarity. But Blood Meridian is regarded as McCarthy’s best novel, and is often listed as one of the greatest works of 20th century literature. It has yet to be made into a movie, but the rights have been passed around Hollywood for years.
6. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Vampires still have a big place in modern pop culture, and it’s all thanks to this novel. While it wasn’t the first vampire novel (John Polidori had an aristocratic vampire similar to Dracula in his 1819 novel Vampyre), Stoker created the most iconic single character in vampire literature. If you don't have this very old binding, Gloss says you can consider simply collecting the many, many different editions of Dracula that have been published over the years, which can often be picked up for just a few bucks.
7. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (1996)
Price: $5,000 for a full set
Although the Song of Ice and Fire series was already popular, interest in these novels spiked when the HBO Game of Thrones series came on the air. At this point, most collectors are more interested in grabbing a whole set of the (still unfinished) series than one individual book. “We would never split up the set,” says Harvey Jason, the owner of Mystery Pier Books in Los Angeles.
8. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990)
The popularity of HBO’s Westworld, based on Crichton’s 1973 film, along with last year’s blockbuster Jurassic World, has renewed interest in his first dinosaur novel.
9. Carrie by Stephen King (1974)
Carrie is the first book by an immensely popular author, both traits that tend to drive up both interest and prices. The 1978 Brian De Palma film also happens to be one of the few true classics out of the many, many Stephen King books that have been adapted for screen, which helps boost interest even further. In terms of the price for a single book, Carrie competes with The Gunslinger, the first of Stephen King’s seven-book Dark Tower series.
10. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
“Vonnegut is immensely popular, and it isn’t just Slaughterhouse Five,” says Jason. Since Slaughterhouse Five is required reading in many freshman lit courses (the 1972 movie is barely remembered) it’s probably the novel Vonnegut fans came across first. And out of the books you have to read in college, it’s hard not to love one that is about an American prisoner of war who survives the World War II firebombing of Dresden and is later abducted by aliens.