29

Throughout the series, Ollivander displays a particular skill at enumerating a wand's properties by only looking at it, even down to the wand core. Is there any mention of how he does this?

Some of the instances where Ollivander shows this skill is quite explainable but others are just...well...magical!

  • Not exactly the skill I'm interested in but multiple times (Diagon Alley in PS, Weighing of Wands in GoF) Ollivander can easily recall the properties of the wand he sold to a particular witch or wizard. While unusual---it would seem that Ollivander has eidetic memory---it is not unheard of; some of our kind, fellow Muggles, can perform a similar feat.
  • But in Weighing of Wands, he easily enumerates the properties of Fleur's wand by mere visual inspection. Like Krum, I would expect Fleur's wand is not one of Ollivander's. He even states that he wouldn't use Veela hair as core as they make for temperemental wands.

(FWIW, I'd understand that he easily recognized Krum's wand down to its maker; it makes business sense to study the product of your competitors.)

To complicate matters, there are way too many wand combinations. And remember that Ollivander enumerates wand properties down to wand core (something not automatically obvious by sight alone)!

  • 1
    I think the real-world parallel would be watchmakers/furniture makers/potters (the clay and kiln kind) of old - instantly able to recognise their own work, but good enough at their trade to critique other people's works in their industry. – Robotnik Jan 14 '15 at 3:19
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    Is "magic" an answer? – Mark Gabriel Jan 14 '15 at 6:37
  • If Ollivander knows the length of his own palm (from the tip of the middle finger to wrist), he can lay any 9"-14" object in his palm and tell it's length to the nearest 1/2" (nearest 1/4" if he's really good). Simple applying of force to the wand will tell him its flexibility/rigidity. As any good woodworker, he would be able to identify the wood. To identify the core, maybe he uses magic. – sampathsris Jul 1 '17 at 8:51
  • When Ollivander twirled Fleur's wand in his fingers, it emitted pink and gold sparks. Can this be an indicator of the core? – I Love You 3000 Nov 1 '18 at 7:01
  • @MarkGabriel Can be, when no other answers work. It's basically a notch below all the other answers, and a notch above plot hole. – Misha R Nov 1 '18 at 16:24
37

In Weighing of the Wands, Ollivander quite clearly takes Fleur's wand into his hand, and then inspects it.

Fleur Delacour swept over to Mr Ollivander, and handed him her wand.

‘Hmmm ...’ he said.

He twirled the wand between his long fingers like a baton and it emitted a number of pink and gold sparks. Then he held it close to his eyes and examined it carefully.

‘Yes,’ he said quietly, ‘nine and a half inches ... inflexible ... rosewood ... and containing ... dear me …’

‘An ’air from ze ’ead of a Veela,’ said Fleur. ‘One of my grandmuzzer’s.’

So Fleur was part Veela, thought Harry, making a mental note to tell Ron ... then he remembered that Ron wasn’t speaking to him.

‘Yes,’ said Mr Ollivander, ‘yes, I’ve never used Veela hair myself, of course. I find it makes for rather temperamental wands ... however, to each his own, and if this suits you …’ Mr Ollivander ran his fingers along the wand, apparently checking for scratches or bumps; then he muttered, ‘Orchideous!’ and a bunch of flowers burst from the wand tip. ‘Very well, very well, it’s in fine working order,’ said Mr Ollivander, scooping up the flowers and handing them to Fleur with her wand. ‘Mr Diggory, you next.’

Goblet of Fire - Page 270- Bloomsbury - Chapter eighteen, The Weighing of the Wands

Wandmaking is a deeply magical and not fully understood branch of magic, according to Pottermore. If anyone would be able to assess a wand just by sight it would probably be Ollivander, but unless you have a true example from canon where he does just that, I will say canon does not provide any information about assessing wands merely by sight. As always, if I am wrong, please feel free to correct me.

  • Ollivander himself uses only three types of cores for his wands (phoenix feather, dragon heartstring and unicorn tail hair), each influencing the wand's "personality" differently. When dealing with something as what Ollivander describes as "temperamental". Fleur's wand was also made of rosewood, a wandwood of which from what I can find only Fleur's wand is made (and Ollivander himself doesn't use according to the linked question in the orignal post), which meant that the combination would be rather unusual for him to see. – Thomas Jacobs Jan 13 '15 at 21:46
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    @ThomasJacobs - "which meant that the combination would be rather unusual for [Ollivander] to see." All the more incredible then that he so readily recognizes the materials and interactions. In fact, he does so as quickly as with any other wand he's seen to identify in the HP series. – user23715 Jan 13 '15 at 22:31
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    Indeed. Ollivander is a very talented man when it comes to wand lore, and it was a deliberate choice of him to not use Veela hair and rosewood, meaning that he needs at least some kind of familiarity with it and its properties to decide to not use them in his creations. – Thomas Jacobs Jan 13 '15 at 23:19
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    @user23715, I think it is entirely reasonable for someone whose (long) life is all about wooden objects to be able to recognize a wood as common as rosewood. Even if he doesn't use it in his own constructions, that doesn't mean he doesn't know what rosewood looks like. (It may also be noted that the most common species of tree in the West that yields a rosewood is actually endangered, which would make it more famous to someone in a business such as Olivander.) – Brian S Jan 13 '15 at 23:34
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    Good catch @Slytherincess. On one hand, Ollivander made the wand (intentionally?) produce sparks. On the other, his assessment came right after the sentence saying "held it close to his eyes and examined it carefully". I was thinking he held it close to his eyes to discern its properties but it is equally possible that the sparks gave him a clue. And I really like Robotnik's analogy in his comment to my question. – skytreader Jan 14 '15 at 9:54
6

Your last sentence answers the question. It is not by sight alone.

Wands are not inanimate objects. They communicate, they choose their owner. Ollivander can sense this communication through many years of practice. He can then translate their characteristics for others less skilled.

  • This isn't just a one way communication from the wand to Ollivander. He can sense what might work well with the witch or wizard as well. He sizes them up and comes up with recommendations, this based on many years of experience, yes, but I think it's much more than that. He can size them up, then with a look at their wand, put two and two together and come up with the right answer. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jan 13 '15 at 18:43
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    What's your source for this? I don't recall anything like this being said in the books; does this information come from an interview, or perhaps from Pottermore? – Matt Gutting Jan 13 '15 at 18:49
3

Accomplished wizards and witches in the HP universe are able to cast spells without any outward sign that they are casting a spell. I'm quite certain that after all these decades of wand making and handling, Ollivander doesn't even think about it any longer - if he sees or handles a wand that is unfamiliar to him, he is able to use magic to discern its properties. External observers may not even notice this. A more accurate reading might require handling the wand itself and using it, but I'm quite sure he's capable of discerning the basic properties of a wand without touching it.

In the same way that one doesn't think about using their hand to pick up a glass, they simply pick it up, an experienced wizard or witch doesn't always consciously cast spells - it's simply an extension of themselves.

  • I can't find it right now, but Snape, as he's leaving with the death eaters, tells Harry he'd better learn to cast spells without speaking. – Adam Davis Jan 14 '15 at 12:40
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This is handicraft. Masters recognize what materials running through which schools and manufactures have been used. They've seen it all.

A master calligrapher will recognize the handwriting and choices of a number of contemporary and past masters.

Take some instrument to a really good violin maker. He'll not be telling you just the kind of wood and age of the instrument but also its origin and depending on its quality, the overseeing or executing master.

And if he did non-trivial repairs on your instrument, he'll likely feel more acquainted with the instrument than with you if you take it in again 20 years later.

-2

It's because Ollivander is a consummate professional who takes exceptional pride in the quality of his work, and in knowing as much as he can about his subject. (I'd bet my last Knut he was in Ravenclaw.)

I'm persuaded that Ollivander personally crafted every wand sold in his shop, and probably is the vendor of most if not all wands sold to British wizards for the past three or four decades. We have seen him recite the characteristics of the wands sold to various wizards over the years (he did this for Hagrid, James, and Lily), and also was able to name the owner of a wand after examining the wand (which he did with Malfoy's).

His knowledge of what can and cannot be made into wands, and the results where this is successful, is certainly encyclopedic, and as we learn from how easily Dumbledore detects the magic in the cave, as wizards grow older, they become more sensitive to and familiar with the subtleties of magic. As for the kind of wood, there are a lot of muggles who can tell what wood from which an implement is made.

And as part of his expertise, he is also well-informed of the work of other people in the business. That's why he can be reasonably sure of the origin of Krum's wand.

  • Your second paragraph doesn't answer the point about wands that are not made by Ollivander. – Gallifreyan Apr 9 '17 at 20:20
  • Yes, he is a Ravenclaw according to his Pottermore fact file. – chirlu Apr 9 '17 at 22:22
  • @Gallifreyan I address the question in the final paragraph. – EvilSnack Nov 12 '18 at 22:20

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