A sneak peek at the British Library's Harry Potter exhibition

A sneak peek at the British Library's Harry Potter exhibition

The British Library’s Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition, which contains artefacts from the British Library archives alongside unseen material from J K Rowling’s personal collection and her publisher Bloomsbury, opens on Friday (20th October).

The exhibition is framed around some of the subjects studied at Harry Potter’s school, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, including Potions and Alchemy, Herbology, Charms and Care of Magical Creatures, with a themed room dedicated to each subject. It is designed to be "hands-on", with family friendly interactive elements.

The exhibition marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and is the first major British Library exhibition to be centred around a living author. The institution revealed to The Bookseller earlier this week that more than 30,000 advanced tickets have been sold to see it- the highest ever for an exhibition.

Rowling has donated early handwritten drafts of ...the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to the collection, as well as her plot plans for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, her annotated sketch of Hogwarts and the synopsis of the first book she sent out to publishers (pictured right). She said the British Library had done an "incredible" job of putting the exhibition together. "Encountering objects for real that have in some shape or form figured in my books has been quite wonderful and to have several of my own items in the exhibition is a reminder of twenty amazing years since Harry was first published," she said.

Original drawings from Jim Kay, who has created the artwork for the illustrated editions of the first three books from the series, are featured too.

Items from the British Library’s collections on display include: the oldest datable item in their archives, Chinese oracle bones dating back to 1600BC; the Ripley Scroll, a six metre-long manuscript that describes how to make the Philosopher’s Stone; a celestial globe dating from 1693 and brought to life using augmented reality technology in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture; a "mermaid" on loan from the British Museum; and the tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, a real-life figure who appears in ...the Philosopher's Stone.


The Ripley Scroll and Chinese oracle bones © British Library Board

Julian Harrison, lead curator of the exhibition, said: "We’re thrilled to welcome visitors and Harry Potter fans alike to Harry Potter: A History of Magic. We’ve loved discovering the magical traditions that lie behind the Harry Potter books, and we’ve encountered so many amazing artefacts along the way. The exhibition takes visitors on a fascinating journey through the history of magic – from mermaids to crystal balls, from broomsticks to garden gnomes! It’s been enormous fun choosing the exhibits."

The British Library will be running a learning and events programme alongside the exhibition, with over 11,000 free tickets made available for schoolchildren across the UK. The learning programme includes guided workshops, teacher events, a family trail and a large-scale family event in December, as well as special events aimed at community partners. Adult courses will also be available on a range of themes including Witchcraft in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, magical illustration and fantasy fiction and visitors will have the opportunity to delve into the magical world in more detail with a series of Late at the Library events, the Hogwarts Curriculum Lectures.


Tombstone of Nicolas Flamel (© Paris, Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge) and the celestial globe (© British Library Board)

As part of the British Library’s Living Knowledge Network, 20 public libraries from across the UK will be joining together to present their own interpretations of Harry Potter: A History of Magic on 20th October. The Living Knowledge Network partners will draw on their own collections and regional connections to magical traditions and folklore to make displays.

Bloomsbury is publishing two related books, which hit bookshelves on the same day as the exhibition opening: Harry Potter: A History of Magic, a £30 hardback with full-colour illustrations, and a £12.99 paperback Harry Potter: A Journey Through a History of Magic, which is “aimed at a family audience”. Pottermore is releasing standard and enhanced e-book editions of Harry Potter: A History of Magic and a standard e-book edition of Harry Potter: A Journey Through a History of Magic. An hour-long documentary charting the journey of the exhibition, which will include an interview with Rowling, will be broadcast on BBC Two at 9 p.m. on Saturday 28th October.

The exhibition will run at the British Library until 28th February 2018. It will open at the New-York Historical Society in October 2018, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US by Scholastic. A companion book will be published by Scholastic in the US in autumn 2018.


Read acting children's editor Caroline Carpenter's review of the exhibition here.