An art handler holds Thomas Taylor’s original cover art for J.K. Rowling's “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” at Sotheby’s in New York. Image Credit: AFP

New York: The original watercolor illustration for the first edition of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' - the book that introduced the world to the young bespectacled wizard - sold for $1.9 million on Wednesday.

The artwork becomes 'the most valuable Harry Potter item ever sold at auction,' auction house Sotheby's said in a statement.

"The illustration was chased by four bidders on the phone and online for nearly ten minutes before selling to applause."

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The work by Thomas Taylor, who was just 23 years old in 1997 when he painted the iconic image of the young boy with the lightning bolt scar and the round glasses, had been expected to fetch between $400,000 and $600,000 at Sotheby's.

Taylor was working at a children's bookstore in Cambridge, England, when he was tapped by publisher Barry Cunningham at Bloomsbury to paint the image for J.K. Rowling's book, which was to be released in London on June 26, 1997.

He was one of the first people to read the book, getting an early copy of the manuscript to inform his artwork, according to Sotheby's books specialist Kalika Sands.

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"So, he knew about the world before anybody else, and it was really up to him to think of how he visualized Harry Potter," Sands told AFP ahead of the auction.

Rowling and Taylor were unknown when the book was released, and few expected it would become a global phenomenon. Only 500 copies of the first edition were printed, and 300 of them were sent to libraries, according to Sotheby's.

But the book soon became a runaway bestseller.

Twenty-seven years later, the so-called "Potterverse" features Rowling's seven original books, a blockbuster film franchise, a critically acclaimed stage play and video games.

More than 500 million copies of the books have been sold in 80 languages.

"It's exciting to see the painting that marks the very start of my career, decades later and as bright as ever," Taylor, now a children's book author and illustrator, said in a statement released by Sotheby's.

"As I write and illustrate my own stories today, I am proud to look back on such magical beginnings," Taylor said.

The first time the illustration was offered at auction at Sotheby's in London in 2001, it only fetched 85,750 pounds  (about $108,500 at current exchange rates) - but only four of the books had been published at that time.