Sotheby’s Sells Harry Potter Watercolor For Record $1.9 Million

The iconic illustration was sold alongside “one of the most significant private libraries to appear at auction” in New York.

Jun 28, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Source: Sotheby’s New York.


This week, the original cover illustration for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling smashed auction records at Sotheby’s New York. The 1997 watercolor by Thomas Taylor fetched $1.9 million after a tense bidding war, making it the most valuable Harry Potter-related object ever sold at auction.


Record-Smashing Sale Followed 10-Minute Bidding War

Source: Sotheby’s New York.


Sotheby’s expected to sell the original Philosopher’s Stone illustration for up to $600,000—the highest presale estimate ever placed on a lot related to the Harry Potter franchise. When the lot hit the block during the June 26 evening sale in New York, a four-way bidding war erupted. Ten minutes passed before an unnamed buyer finally placed the winning bid of $1.9 million.


The iconic watercolor illustration first came to auction in 2001 at Sotheby’s London. It sold for £85,750 (about $108,000 at today’s exchange rate) against a high estimate of £25,000 (about $31,000). At the time, only four of the seven novels in the Harry Potter series had been published. Twenty-three years later, the Philosopher’s Stone cover art has multiplied its value by eighteen. The Harry Potter franchise altogether is now worth an estimated $25 billion.


Thomas Taylor Created the 7-Figure Illustration in 1997

First edition cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Source: CNN.


The English illustrator and children’s author Thomas Taylor was twenty-three years old when he created the cover art for J.K. Rowling’s debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It was his first professional commission. Taylor used concentrated watercolors with black pencil outlines to illustrate the now universally recognized first look at the novel’s titular character. The image appeared on the cover of the first UK edition of the novel, as well as several translated versions worldwide. Another artist, Mary GrandPré, was commissioned to illustrate the US edition, which was released with the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

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Ahead of Wednesday’s record-smashing sale, Taylor said, “It is exciting to see the painting that marks the very start of my career, decades later and as bright as ever! 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.”


The Library of Dr. Rodney P. Swankto at Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s headquarters in New York City. Source: Wikipedia Commons.


Sotheby’s sold the Harry Potter illustration during its June 26 evening sale of The Library of Dr. Rodney P. Swankto. Touted as “one of the most significant private libraries to appear at auction,” the sale comprised nearly fifty rare books, manuscripts, and drawings from Dr. Swankto’s personally curated literary collection. Among these are valuable first editions, including a one-of-a-kind handwritten draft of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of Four (1890).

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.