New-York Historical Society’s Harry Potter Exhibit Is Positively Spellbinding

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Jacket art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by Mary GrandPré (Images courtesy of New-York Historical Society Museum and Library)

With 500 million titles sold around the world, a movie franchise and Broadway play currently on Broadway, it seems almost an understatement to say that the Harry Potter series has changed the world. But what is now one of the most famous franchises in the world might have been overlooked if it were not for an 8-year-old girl.

After being turned down by eight other publishing houses, a sample of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone found its way to Bloomsbury agent Nigel Newton. He took it home and handed it off to his daughter, who read a chapter. She fell in love instantly and penned a note to her father, saying she wanted more. Lucky for her, and the rest of the world, he listened.

“Snowy Owl (Bubo Scandiacus)” by John James Audubon

That note, scrawled in children’s handwriting on a piece of paper no bigger than an index card, is just one of the many treasures in the New-York Historical Society’s Harry Potter: A History Of Magic Exhibit. Rather than offering a tribute to pop culture, the exhibit gives visitors a glimpse inside the mind of Rowling and the creation of one of the most magical worlds in literary history.

The exhibit, which first found a home in the British Library, is organized around the subjects studied at Hogwarts and the history and folklore that has influenced our modern idea of magic. The potions and alchemy room features the tombstone of Nicholas Flamel—a medieval Parisian rumored to be an alchemist who gets a nod in the first Harry Potter book as the keeper of the Sorcerer’s Stone. A herbology room features illustrated herbals and gnomes, while the charms room includes the first written record of the incantation “abracadbra.”

Among the noteworthy pieces in the exhibit are items from Rowling’s personal collection. Handwritten first drafts and sketches of the characters and Hogwarts offer visitors a delightful, behind the scenes look into Rowling’s writing process as well the world she brought to life.

Also on display are stunning works of art; several of Jim Kay’s pieces done for an illustrated edition of the Philosopher’s Stone for Bloomsbury take a well-deserved place of prominence, as does original cover art done for Scholastic’s version of the books.

Rowling’s later works also get their rightful space, with costumes and set models from the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on display and a study of the Woolworth Building, the landmark location featured in Fantastic Beasts.

The exhibit, which marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone’s by Scholastic, is sure to captivate both the avid and casual Harry Potter fan. And don’t worry: Muggles are more than welcome.

Harry Potter: A History Of Magic runs through Jan. 27. For more information on tickets, as well as programming centered around the exhibit, visit harrypotter.nyhistory.org.

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