The first wave of LEGO Harry Potter sets hit the shops in 2001 coinciding with the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone, as it was released as in USA). This is the first of two posts discussing the early days of LEGO Harry Potter to mark the 20th anniversary of the theme. Let’s grab our time turners and travel back in time together…
Before we start our time travel, note that in addition to the two planned 20th anniversary posts (of which this is the first), we are also running a 20th anniversary MOC (my own creation) competition, where you can win a LEGO Harry Potter set, should you win it. Check out the competition post here!
Going back in time…
It didn’t take much more than a year from the publication of the the first book in the UK in mid 1997, for Harry Potter to become famous worldwide. Around the globe, kids were soon lined up for when a new book was to be released in the series.
As expected, due to the popularity, movies followed. Warner Bros. bought the film rights to the book in 1999 and started filming at the Leavesden Film Studios outside London in 2000.
LEGO acquired a license allowing them to produce Harry Potter themed LEGO and released no less than eleven such sets to coincide with the premier of the first movie in November 2001. This was the beginning of LEGO Harry Potter.
The 2001 LEGO Harry Potter sets
As noted above, eleven LEGO Harry Potter sets were released in 2001, including models of many of the iconic places, such as the Hogwarts Castle and Hagrid’s Hut. A full list of the 2001 sets is provided here:
- 4701 – The Sorting Hat – 48 pcs, 1 minifigure
- 4702 – The Final Challenge – 60 pcs, 2 minifigures
- 4704 – The Chamber of the Winged Keys – 175 pcs, 3 minifigures
- 4705 – Snape’s Class – 163 pcs, 3 minifigures
- 4706 – Forbidden Corridor – 238 pcs, 3 minifigures
- 4707 – Hagrid’s Hut – 299 pcs, 2 minifigures
- 4708 – Hogwarts Express – 410 pcs, 3 minifigures
- 4709 – Hogwarts Castle – 682 pcs, 9 minifigures
- 4721 – Hogwarts Classrooms – 73 pcs, 1 minifigure
- 4722 – Gryffindor House – 68 pcs, 1 minifigure
- 4723 – Diagon Alley Shops – 80 pcs, 1 minifigure
An impressive line-up for sure, though we also got eleven new sets in both 2002 and 2004. Looking at piece count and the number of minifigure included, they do look a bit light on compared what you would expect today, but in terms of number of sets, it was truly the golden age of LEGO Harry Potter.
It is not all about quantity. To be honest, some of the 2001 sets do not look that fantastic. LEGO was in a difficult period then, posting major deficits some years, as it focus had been everywhere else but on releasing high quality LEGO sets. We’ll talk more about this period in the second post.
Looking at the largest set, the Hogwarts Castle (set 4709) is okay, but is mostly made up of larger pieces and contains few details, and has as such not aged well. A nice addition though is the rotating door with the “Fat lady” portrait, allowing students to enter the Gryffindor Common Room. Another thing worth mentioning is that Peeves was included as minifigure. This is the only character (to my knowledge) from the Harry Potter books that didn’t feature in the movies that ever has been made into an official minifigure. Peeves also featured in set 4705 – Snape’s Class.
The Hogwarts Castle used two plastic laminated pieces of paper as roof for the Great Hall. Don’t ask my why – when you have a company that produce perfectly suited LEGO plates! But they took the paper thing to a whole new level with set 4707 – Hagrid’s Hut, which used eight triangular pieces of laminated paper for the roof. It must be acknowledged that the shape would be difficult to make with the LEGO pieces available back then, but I’m sure they could have come up with a LEGO solution if they had tried. A rubber band held the eight paper roof pieces together when displayed in closed form. An untraditional solution indeed!
On a positive note, the set did include Norbert as baby dragon. It was the first appearance of that element (ID 41535) ever and the only time it has appeared in sand green.
To complete the discussion of the less impressive sets of 2001, I cannot avoid mentioning Hogwarts Express (set 4708). The train engine itself I would call ugly – I’m not sure LEGO has ever done a worse looking train. The wheels are too small to look right and cannot run on train tracks and the bogies can’t turn. Maybe it was to make it easier to push around a carpet for kids? The carriage is better, though no better than average – and is missing glass for the windows. The best thing from this set is the station, which include a rotating door, so Harry, Ron and Hermione can enter platform 9 3/4 from the muggle part of Kings Cross station.
More successful was Snape’s Class, and in the series of sets covering the challenges facing Harry, Ron and Hermione towards the end of the book. I really love these sets, which surprisingly covers scenes that haven’t been repeated in later sets.
Set 4706 captures the forbidden corridor with the three-headed dog Fluffy (its only appearance in LEGO to date) and includes a flute to make him fall asleep. Once Fluffy is asleep, you can make your way through the trap door, but watch out for the Devil’s Snare below – and listen to Hermione’s advice on how to overcome it.
Once freed from the Devil’s Snare, you can proceed to the next set (4704), which includes the Chamber of the Winged Keys. A broom is provided so Harry can go chase the winged key, that will unlock the next door. Should Harry succeed, the next challenge is for Ron, where he is to win a game of wizard chess.
It may be a short chess game, as there is only one chess piece, but its inclusion is appreciated nevertheless. Once Ron wins the game, Harry can proceed to the final challenge (set 4702), where he is facing Professor Quirrell in front of the Mirror of Erised. A photo of this is shown further down. A hologram sticker is used for the mirror allowing it to show Harry both with and without the philosopher’s stone.
Innovation in LEGO Harry Potter
The LEGO Harry Potter theme has given us a number of innovations in terms of new parts and figures. This includes the first “oversized” minifigure used for Hagrid (in sets 4707 and 4709), the very first head with dual face prints (Professor Quirinus Quirrell – possessed by Voldemort, in set 4702) and the first glow-in-the-dark head used for Professor Snape (in sets 4705 and 4709).
The year after we saw the introduction of the new short legs, which were used for both Dobby (set 4731) and the two goblins in Gringotts Bank (set 4714) – and outside the Harry Potter theme also for Yoda.
Another novel idea introduced was how the Hogwarts themed sets from the first two waves of sets (2001 and 2002) could be combined and stacked in a modular way, allowing you to reconfigure your castle as you added more sets to your collection. On the snippet of a LEGO poster below, we see Hogwarts (4709) on top of Snape’s Class (4705) to the left, as well as the series of challenge sets (4702, 4704 and 4706) combined (right). The ability to recombine different sections of Hogwarts was repeated with the 2010-11 and the 2018-2020 Hogwarts sets.
In the next post we’ll look at a few of the 2001 sets not covered above – in particularly the colourful sets numbered 4721-4723. We’ll also look briefly at what the following years gave us – and the importance of the Harry Potter license (and not least Star Wars license) in LEGO’s crisis years. So check back soon!
Till then, Build the Magic!