Spellbinding Cover Art for ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ Could Break Auction Record

The original watercolor illustration of a young wizard boarding the Hogwarts Express was artist Thomas Taylor’s first professional commission

Harry Potter Watercolor Illustration
The original illustration for the cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone will go to auction in June. Sotheby's

When 23-year-old Thomas Taylor was commissioned to create the cover art for a new children’s fantasy novel, he was a graduate student working at a bookstore in Cambridge, England. The world hadn’t yet heard the name “Harry Potter.”

Now, Taylor’s original cover art for the first edition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is going to auction, where it’s expected to fetch between $400,000 and $600,000.

“It is exciting to see the painting that marks the very start of my career, decades later and as bright as ever!” says Taylor, now an author and illustrator, in a statement from Sotheby’s. The auction house calls his portrayal of the young wizard, complete with his signature lightning bolt scar and round glasses, the “universal image” that defined Potter’s look.

Taylor was among the first to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. He completed the assignment—a watercolor of a young wizard boarding the Hogwarts Express—in two days.

When the novel debuted in 1997, Taylor was still working at the bookshop. As it became increasingly popular, his colleagues would inform customers that one of their own created the cover art.

“I’m sure you can imagine the looks of confused suspicion on the punters’ faces as their friendly but scruffy bookseller was pointed out as the cover artist of a book that was on everyone’s lips,” writes Thomas on his website.

Harry Potter original illustration
Thomas Taylor was a 23-year-old graduate student when he was commissioned to illustrate the cover for the first Harry Potter book. Sotheby's

With time, Taylor actually became “quite critical” of the piece, as he told the Rowling Library in 2022.

“It was the first professional job I did outside art school, so it was my beginning in illustration,” he said. “And normally, when you start out as an illustrator, you kind of hope that your first work will be a bit forgotten and then you’ll develop and get better and get better. But of course, in this case, this first piece of work has followed me my entire career.”

Though Taylor’s cover was sometimes used for translations of the novel, it never made it to the American edition. Instead, Mary GrandPré provided the artwork for the book, which also received a title change, becoming Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Taylor’s original illustration was last sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 2001, when it brought in £85,750 (about $106,000), reports CNN’s Amarachi Orie. Now, auction house officials are hoping it will sell for much more—and potentially even break records.

An unsigned first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone currently holds the record for the priciest item related to the series. That volume went for $421,000 at a Heritage Auctions sale in 2021.

“It is hard to convey the impact of this illustration by Thomas Taylor, created in 1997 for the then-unknown novel,” says Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts, in the statement. “Instantly recognizable today, Taylor’s work serves as the visual blueprint for the boy wizard who has since inspired millions worldwide.”

On June 26, the book will be sold along with other significant works by 19th- and 20th-century British and American writers, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edgar Allan Poe. Later this summer, Sotheby’s will also sell one of Rowling’s original handwritten manuscripts for The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Taylor’s illustration and Rowling’s manuscript will go on display at Sotheby’s New York from June 21 to 25.

Today, Taylor is still writing and illustrating his own stories. Despite his criticisms of the work, he’s proud of what it’s come to mean to readers. As he told the Rowling Library, “I’ve become very aware over the years that a lot of people have a lot of strong emotional and nostalgic attachment to this image, so I’m very proud of that. I’m very, very happy about that.”

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