The book, which was Rowling's debut novel, was written between approximately June 1990 and some time in 1995. In 1990 Jo Rowling, as she preferred to be known,[a] wanted to move with her boyfriend to a flat in Manchester and in her words, "One weekend after flat hunting, I took the train back to London on my own and the idea for Harry Potter fell into my head... A scrawny, little, black-haired, bespectacled boy became more and more of a wizard to me... I began to write Philosopher's Stone that very evening. Although, the first couple of pages look nothing like the finished product." Then Rowling's mother died and, to cope with her pain, Rowling transferred her own anguish to the orphan Harry. Rowling spent six years working on Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and after it was accepted by Bloomsbury, she obtained a grant of £8,000 from the Scottish Arts Council, which enabled her to plan the sequels. She sent the book to an agent and a publisher, and then the second agent she approached spent a year trying to sell the book to publishers, most of whom thought it was too long at about 90,000 words. Barry Cunningham, who was building a portfolio of distinctive fantasies by new authors for Bloomsbury Children's Books, recommended accepting the book, and the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury's chief executive said it was "so much better than anything else".
Publication and reception in the United Kingdom
Bloomsbury accepted the book, paying Rowling a £2,500 advance, and Cunningham sent proof copies to carefully chosen authors, critics and booksellers in order to obtain comments that could be quoted when the book was launched. He was less concerned about the book's length than about its author's name, since the title sounded like a boys' book to him, and he believed boys preferred books by male authors. Rowling therefore adopted the nom de plume J.K. Rowling just before publication. In June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher's Stone with an initial print-run of 500 copies in hardback, three hundred of which were distributed to libraries. Her original name, "Joanne Rowling", can be found in small print on the copyright page of this first British edition. (The 1998 first American edition would remove reference to "Joanne" completely.) The short initial print run was standard for first novels, and Cunningham hoped booksellers would read the book and recommend it to customers. Examples from this initial print run have become quite valuable, selling for as much as US$33,460 in a 2007 Heritage Auction.
Lindsey Fraser, who had supplied one of the blurb comments, wrote what is thought to be the first published review, in The Scotsman on 28 June 1997. She described Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone as "a hugely entertaining thriller" and Rowling as "a first-rate writer for children". Another early review, in The Herald, said, "I have yet to find a child who can put it down." Newspapers outside Scotland started to notice the book, with glowing reviews in The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Mail on Sunday, and in September 1997 Books for Keeps, a magazine that specialised in children's books, gave the novel four stars out of five. The Mail on Sunday rated it as "the most imaginative debut since Roald Dahl"; a view echoed by the Sunday Times ("comparisons to Dahl are, this time, justified"), while The Guardian called it "a richly textured novel given lift-off by an inventive wit" and The Scotsman said it had "all the makings of a classic".
In 1997 the UK edition won a National Book Award and a gold medal in the 9 to 11 year-olds category of the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. The Smarties award, which is voted for by children, made the book well-known within six months of publication, while most children's books have to wait for years. The following year, Philosopher's Stone won almost all the other major British awards that were decided by children.[b] It was also shortlisted for children's books awards adjudicated by adults, but did not win. Sandra Beckett comments that books which were popular with children were regarded as undemanding and as not of the highest literary standards – for example the literary establishment disdained the works of Roald Dahl, an overwhelming favourite of children before the appearance of Rowling's books. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 22 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone won two publishing industry awards given for sales rather than literary merit, the British Book Awards Children's Book of the Year and the Booksellers' Association / Bookseller Author of the Year. By March 1999 UK editions had sold just over 300,000 copies, and the story was still the UK's best-selling title in December 2001. A Braille edition was published in May 1998 by the Scottish Braille Press.
Platform 9¾, from which the Hogwarts Express left London, was commemorated in the real-life King's Cross railway station with a sign and a trolley apparently passing through the wall.
U.S. publication and reception
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Scholastic Corporation bought the U.S. rights at the Bologna Book Fair in April 1997 for US$105,000, an unusually high sum for a children's book. They thought that a child would not want to read a book with the word "philosopher" in the title and, after some discussion, the American edition was published in September 1998 under the title Rowling suggested, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Rowling claimed that she regretted this change and would have fought it if she had been in a stronger position at the time. Philip Nel has pointed out that the change lost the connection with alchemy, and the meaning of some other terms changed in translation, for example from UK English "crumpets" to US English "muffin". While Rowling accepted the change from both UK English "mum" and Seamus Finnigan's Irish variant "mam" to "mom" in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she vetoed this change in the later books (this change was reversed in later editions of the book). However Nel considered that Scholastic's translations were considerably more sensitive than most of those imposed on UK English books of the time, and that some other changes could be regarded as useful copyedits. Since the UK editions of early titles in the series were published a few months earlier than the American versions, some American readers became familiar with the British English versions after buying them via the Internet.
At first the most prestigious reviewers ignored the book, leaving it to book trade and library publications such as Kirkus Reviews and Booklist, which examined it only by the entertainment-oriented criteria of children's fiction. However, more penetrating specialist reviews (such as one by Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, which pointed out the complexity, depth and consistency of the world Rowling had built) attracted the attention of reviewers in major newspapers. Although The Boston Globe and Michael Winerip in The New York Times complained that the final chapters were the weakest part of the book they and most other American reviewers gave glowing praise. A year later the US edition was selected as an American Library Association Notable Book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998, and a New York Public Library 1998 Best Book of the Year, and won Parenting Magazine's Book of the Year Award for 1998, the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults.
In August 1999 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone topped the New York Times list of best-selling fiction, and stayed near the top of the list for much of 1999 and 2000, until the New York Times split its list into children's and adult sections under pressure from other publishers who were eager to see their books given higher placings. Publishers Weekly's report in December 2001 on cumulative sales of children's fiction placed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 19th among hardbacks (over 5 million copies) and 7th among paperbacks (over 6.6 million copies).
In May 2008, Scholastic announced the creation of a 10th Anniversary Edition of the book that was released on 1 October 2008 to mark the tenth anniversary of the original American release. For the fifteenth anniversary of the books, Scholastic re-released Sorcerer's Stone, along with the other six novels in the series, with new cover art by Kazu Kibuishi in 2013.
By mid-2008, official translations of the book were published in 67 languages. Bloomsbury have published translations in Latin and in Ancient Greek, and the latter was described as "one of the most important pieces of Ancient Greek prose written in many centuries".