The Original ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ Cover Art Could Fetch $600k at Auction

Thomas Taylor's watercolor is set to become the most valuable item connected to the iconic book series.

Person holds up illustration of young boy standing in front of red train
The watercolor illustration by Thomas Taylor was featured on the first edition of the novel in 1997. Courtesy Sotheby's

In the 1990s, Thomas Taylor, a recent art school graduate, was working at a children’s bookshop in Cambridge in the U.K. when he received his first professional commission to create cover art for a new work of children’s fiction. Unbeknownst to the 23-year-old aspiring illustrator, his work would go on to become one of the most well-known book covers in recent history.

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The novel in question was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first wizarding world book from then-unknown author J.K. Rowling. Taylor’s cover, which shows a young Harry Potter boarding the Hogwarts Express, is the earliest visual depiction of the iconic character.

That original watercolor illustration is also expected to become the most valuable piece of Harry Potter book memorabilia when it heads to auction next month at Sotheby's with an estimate of between $400,000 and $600,000. The current auction record for memorabilia related to the book franchise was set in 2021 when Heritage Auctions sold an unsigned edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for $421,000.

“Taylor’s work serves as the visual blueprint for the boy wizard who has since inspired millions worldwide,” said Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts, in a statement. Showcasing the young wizard with his signature lightning bolt scar and wire-rimmed glasses, the image “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,” he added.

After Taylor accepted the cover art assignment from publisher Barry Cunningham at Bloomsburg, the artist became one of the first people to read Rowling’s original manuscript. Unaware of its future significance, he would eventually discard those valuable pages. His cover art took only two days to create.

Harry Potter’s place in literary history

The illustration was on the cover of the first edition of the novel in 1997, which quickly became a bestseller. Visitors to the bookshop where Taylor worked were frequently shocked to learn the employee was behind its cover, according to Sotheby’s. The Harry Potter series has since been offered in over eighty different language translations with more than 500 million copies sold worldwide.

Taylor’s work was subsequently used for numerous translated versions of the book—although not for the U.S. edition, which was published under the title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. His original art was also featured in the June 2023 Bloomsbury reprint of the 1997 novel to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the series.

The watercolor was last offered at auction in 2001 at Sotheby’s, where it fetched £85,750 ($107,000) even though only four of the seven Harry Potter books had been published at that time. It will now be sold on June 26 from the library of the late book collector Rodney Swantko, in a sale populated by 19th- and 20th-century American and English literature.

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It isn’t the only piece of Harry Potter memorabilia headed to Sotheby’s this summer. The auction house will also have an original manuscript of Rowling’s 2007  The Tales of Beedle the Bard during its New York Fine Books and Manuscripts Auction next month. The handwritten text, which has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000, was gifted to Cunningham and contains the inscription: “To Barry, the man who thought an overlong novel about a boy wizard in glasses might just sell… THANK YOU.” Both the manuscript and Taylor’s illustration will be available to view at Sotheby’s New York between June 21 and June 25.

“It is exciting to see the painting that marks the very start of my career, decades later and as bright as ever,” said Taylor, who has since published his own children’s book series Erie-on-Sea, in a statement. “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.”

The Original ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ Cover Art Could Fetch $600k at Auction