This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the U.S. publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the first in J.K. Rowling's blockbuster fantasy series starring a young wizard and his friends. Today, the New-York Historical Society welcomes the British Library's exhibition dedicated to exploring the magic and mythology at the core of the Potter books. Harry Potter: A History of Magic features manuscripts, magical objects, and other treasures hailing from the archives of the British Library, Scholastic (Harry Potter's publisher), and the author herself. The New York show also features new items not on display in England, such as the pastel illustrations for the original editions of the book and costumes from the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
To get you started, here are top six must-see picks in the exhibition:
1. Jacob Meydenbach, [H]ortus Sanitatis. Mainz, 1491. © British Library Board
Before Wikipedia, there were encyclopedias. This one is the world's first encyclopedias dedicated to natural history. Harry reads this to learn about growing mandrakes--a plant believed to possess magical healing powers. (The ancient Romans used it as an anesthetic.)
2. Leonardo da Vinci's notebook. Italy, ca. 1506-08 ©British Library Board
There's plenty of stargazing in the Potter books, and museum curators included da Vinci's notebook in the exhibit to inspire young astronomers and scientists of the future.
3. The Ripley Scroll, detail England, ca. 1570. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
This cryptic, twelve-foot alchemical roll decodes the elixir for eternal life and was the inspiration for the first book in the Potter series. One copy recently sold at auction for nearly $800,000.
4. Oracle bones. China. ca 1600-1046 BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Give of A.W. Bahr, 1923.
The oldest artifact in the exhibition, these bones, believed by the ancient Chinese to be of dragon extraction, were used over 3,000 years ago to predict the future.
5. Robert John Thornton. The Temple of Flora. London, 1807. The LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden.
Mandrakes, mermaid's wineglass, wolfsbane--all common plants found in any self-respecting medieval herbalist's repertoir. Harry's longtime sidekick Neville Longbottom is a star herbologist and would no doubt consult volumes like this.
6. Tombstone of Nicolas Flamel. Paris, 15th century © Paris, Musée de Cluny - Musée national du Moyen ?ge.
Nicholas Flamel was the fourteenth-century scribe and manuscript dealer who dedicated much of his life to decoding the Philosopher's Stone. Though he didn't find the secret recipe to eternal life, Flamel lived well into his eighties. He even designed his own tombstone that was originally housed in the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie until it was destroyed in the French Revolution.
Harry Potter: A History of Magic runs now through January 27, 2019. Tickets and more information may be found here.