With the magic of book shopping under threat from three-for-two tables, Amazon discounts and downloads, we decided to take a step back in time, where you’d spend an afternoon labouring bookishly in a hidden corner of your favourite bookstore, seeking literary finds that feel a little more special. So we hopped over to Fulham to get the lowdown on rare books from Pom Harrington of Peter Harrington books.

Pom’s dad started a market stall selling first editions in Chelsea Indoor Market in 1969, and it evolved over time into the grand premises the company occupies today on the Fulham Road.  It’s crammed with first editions: everything from Principia Mathematica to Harry Potter to a letter from Christopher Columbus to the king of Spain.

Pom’s guide for buyers

First up

‘In the main, books have got to be first edition. A second-edition Shakespeare Folio may set you back £400,000, but what you’re looking for is what the Americans call First Printing, and we call First Impression. And condition is everything.  Ask yourself: ‘Is this what the book looked like in the year it was published? The closer you get to that, the greater the value.’

Limited company

‘Print rarity is important. The first Harry Potter print run was 500 copies, and a zillion people want it. But by the last one, Deathly Hallows, the print run was something like five million. People call me up and ask how much it’s worth, and I say, whatever you paid for it. You need rarity to have value.’

Halcyon days

‘If you are buying with investment in mind, remember that people start collecting books in their forties and fifties, as that’s when they have spare money. And they tend to like books that thrilled them when they were kids. We’re currently seeing a huge growth in Roald Dahl. Matilda, for example, was printed in the 1980s: you used to be able to buy a second-hand copy for £10–£20, and now they’re £200–£300.’

Movie magic

‘A book will often go up in value if it’s made into a film. But it’s got to be a good movie. CS Lewis saw a bit of rise, in anticipation of the Narnia movies, but the film didn’t do that well, so prices went down again. Whereas Tolkien prices have double and trebled.’

Peter Harrington, 100 Fulham Road, London SW3 6HS (020 7591 0220; www.peterharrington.co.uk)


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