The first recorded mention of ‘abracadabra’, as part of a cure for malaria, in Quintus Serenus’ Liber medicinalis, late 2nd century © British Library Board

Gold filigree case containing a bezoar stone, used as a remedy for diseases. India, late 17th/early 18th century © The Board of the Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Witches at a cauldron in Ulrich Molitor’s De laniis et phitonicis mulieribus… tractatus pulcherrimus (Cologne, 1489) © British Library Board

Page from a 13th-century bestiary depicting a phoenix rising from the ashes © British Library Board

The Ripley Scroll, illuminating the preparation of The Philosoper’s Stone, 16th century © British Library Board

‘Treatise on Stones’ from Jacob Meydenbach’s Ortus Sanitatis (Strasbourg, 1491) © British Library Board

The Battersea Cauldron, early Iron Age/late Bronze Age, dredged from the Thames c. 1861 © Trustees of the British Museum

The Snowy Owl in John James Audubon’s The Birds of America 1827–38 © British Library Board

A mandrake being pulled from the ground by a dog in Giovanni Cadamosto’s Herbal (Ferrara, 1471) © British Library Board

Chinese oracle bone from the Shang Dynasty era (1600–1050 BC) © British Library Board

‘Howe experyments to be Invysible must bee preparedd’ from The Book of King Solomon, 17th century © British Library Board

Small black crystal ball used by 20th-century Paignton witch ‘Smelly Nelly’, who was known to be fond of strong perfume © Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle

Marking the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this major exhibition delves into centuries-old British Library treasures and surprising artefacts from other cultural institutions in a celebration of all things magical.

Rare books, manuscripts and objects capturing the traditions of magic and folklore around the world are grouped according to the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from Potions, Herbology and Divination to Care of Magical Creatures and Defence Against the Dark Arts. Also showcased are manuscripts, drawings and original artwork from J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury’s own collections, andill fantastical items on loan from the Science Museum and the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

Click on images to enlarge
and view in slideshow

A wide-ranging events programme gives visitors the opportunity to delve into the world of sorcery in yet more detail, with highlights including the Hogwarts Curriculum Lectures, Late at the Library events and panel discussions about illustrating and translating Harry Potter, Medieval magic, the effect of 20 years of Harry Potter on children’s literature and much more. The British Library’s Living Knowledge Network has also set up simultaneous regional displays at 20 public libraries from Exeter to Edinburgh.

The accompanying books Harry Potter: A History of Magic and Harry Potter: A Journey Through a History of Magic are published by Bloomsbury, and the eBook editions by Pottermore.

On Saturday 28 October, BBC Two broadcasts an hour-long Harry Potter: A History of Magic documentary, charting the journey of the exhibition from object selection by the curators to opening night, exploring other historical magical traditions and folklore, and featuring interviews with J.K. Rowling and illustrator Jim Kay.


Julian Harrison is Lead Curator of Harry Potter: A History of Magic. A specialist on medieval manuscripts, he has previously curated exhibitions on Magna Carta at the British Library (2015) and William Shakespeare at the Library of Birmingham (2016). He also writes for and edits the British Library’s award-winning Medieval Manuscripts blog.
Thursday 2 November:
Curating Harry Potter


Harry Potter: A History of Magic
Friday 20 October 2017 to Wednesday 28 February 2018
PACCAR Gallery, British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
Open daily except 24 to 27 December and 1 January
Adults £16; children, students and National Arts Pass holders £8; other concessions
In partnership with Bloomsbury
More info