The Original ‘Harry Potter’ Cover Drawing Is Set to Smash Auction Records

The watercolor is estimated to sell for as much as $600,000 at Sotheby’s New York.

Thomas Taylor, Illustration for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997). Courtesy Sotheby's.

The priciest ever Harry Potter item ever us about to come to auction: on June 26, Thomas Taylor’s original watercolor drawing for the first installment in the blockbuster series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), goes on sale at Sotheby’s New York. Bearing a high estimate of $600,000, the image served as the cover for a book that would go on to sell in excess of 120 million copies, placing it among the world’s bestselling books, and be translated into some 85 languages. It spawned a series of sequels, in all selling an eye-popping 500 million copies. 

The same work sold at Sotheby’s London in 2001, fetching £85,750 (about $107,000 at today’s exchange rate) against a high estimate of £25,000 (about $31,000) to set what was then a record for any Potter-related material. The current high for any item related to the series is $421,000, achieved at Heritage Auctions in Dallas in 2021 for an unsigned first edition of Philosopher’s Stone.

Taylor’s drawing—which has it all, from the lightning-shaped scar and the striped scarf to the Hogwarts Express train on platform 9¾—is part of the collection of oral surgeon Rodney P. Swantko, who died in 2022. The also-rans in this sale include Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Edgar Allan Poe. 

An art handler holds up a watercolor drawing for the cover of the first Harry Potter book

Thomas Taylor, Illustration for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

“It is exciting to see the painting that marks the very start of my career, decades later and as bright as ever!” said the artist. “It takes me back to the experience of reading Harry Potter for the first time—one of the first people in the world to do so—and the process of creating what is now an iconic image. As I write and illustrate my own stories today, I am proud to look back on such magical beginnings.”

Besides setting a record for Potter-related material, the current work also blows away the record for a work by the artist, which is currently about $15,000 for a drawing of a wizard that would figure in the Philosopher’s Stone cover design.

Also featured in the sale will be a bit of a deeper cut for Rowling enthusiasts: one of the author’s seven original manuscripts for The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a book of fairy tales she wrote in 2007 that was not intended for publication. The seven manuscripts were meant as gifts for friends who were instrumental in getting the Harry Potter books published. This copy was previously in the collection of Barry Cunningham, the English publisher best known for signing Rowling and publishing Philosopher’s Stone.

“It is hard to convey the impact of this illustration by Thomas Taylor, created in 1997, for the then unknown novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” said Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts. “Instantly recognizable today, Taylor’s work serves as the visual blueprint for the boy wizard who has since inspired millions worldwide. Taylor’s charming work has become a vital addition to what is now the most beloved children’s book series in history, perfectly capturing the enchanting and nostalgic universe of Harry Potter.”

Potter and Rowling fans can get a firsthand glimpse of the lots when they go on public view at Sotheby’s New York from June 21–25.

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