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Harry Potter: Happy 20th anniversary, little wizard

A publishing saga, captured in Potter ephemera — letters, sketches, mementos and more — that has been transfigured into treasure.

Before there was a movie franchise, and a collection of theme parks, and a Broadway play (two actually); before you could spot wand-wielding children sporting long black robes and know just what they were up to; there was Joanne Rowling’s manuscript, famously rumored to have been partly written on disposable napkins, about an orphaned boy who did not know he was a wizard.

It was rejected by several British publishers, and then accepted by one, Bloomsbury, which published it as “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” with Rowling’s name defeminized into “J.K.” A year later — on Sept. 1, 1998 — it arrived in American bookstores as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” with a new cover designed by Mary GrandPré. There was another publisher, Scholastic, tasked with introducing the book and the wizarding world to American children, and soon enough, across the country there were young readers, and more than a few older ones, clamoring for more.


A letter from Rowling’s American editor that was in galleys sent to media and booksellers.


Mary GrandPré’s original hand lettering for the cover of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”


A sketch for an illustration in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” by Mary GrandPré. Photo: TBD


A limited edition “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” paperback, with an original Mary GrandPré cover. Photo: The New York Times

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