Beatrix Potter first editions

Born during the Victorian era to wealthy and well-connected parents, English children’s author and illustrator, botanist and conservationist Beatrix Potter led a largely solitary childhood. To make up for the lack of company she began to sketch and make up stories about her pet rabbits and her parents seeing her talent paid for art lessons.

She was fascinated by natural history and would spend many hours drawing wildlife such as fungi and flowers, before turning her hand to illustration for children’s books published by Nister & Dutton, wherein prototypes for many of the characters from Peter Rabbit & Friends can be found, including Jeremy Fisher (‘A Frog he would a fishing Go’, Nister’s Holiday Annual 1896). The first book to solely feature illustrations by Beatrix Potter is the rare booklet ‘The Happy Pair’ (c.1890), which alongside many of her more ephemeral illustrated pieces from that time are highly sought after and can fetch in excess of £15,000 in good original condition.

Encouraged by the reception her hand-done ‘picture-letters’ had received from the young recipients, Beatrix Potter turned her hand to writing & illustrating her own children’s books. She struggled initially to find a publisher, and instead privately printed her first two books ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ (1901) and ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’ (1902), experimenting with new colour printing processes and managing every aspect of the books’ production. Publishers Frederick Warne & Co. were so impressed they decided to take a chance on the budding author, now 36 years old.
The Warnes did not have much hope it would sell many copies; they actually gave the project to their youngest brother, Norman, as a kind of test for his first project. However, Norman proved to be a good choice. He warmed to both the book and Beatrix.

He was determined to make a success of the book and developed a good working relationship with Beatrix as they pored over the individual details of the book. It was Norman who insisted that the plates for the Warne editions of Peter Rabbit would still be in colour. Beatrix insisted that the book remain small, so that it would be easy for children to hold. By the end of the year, 28,000 copies were in print. and the rest as they say is history. Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books remain in print to this day, a phenomenon of children’s literature.

 

First editions of the famous books by Beatrix Potter are not always easy to spot, many having ‘issue points’ or variations that can have considerable bearing on value. If in doubt please contact one of our experts for more information. The author also experimented with ‘deluxe versions’ of many of her books, either to binding designs by Beatrix Potter or bound in art fabric from her grandfather’s factory, which are highly collectable when in very good condition.
The last of her works to be published was ‘The Tale of the Faithful Dove’, published posthumously by Warne in 1955 in a limited edition of 100 copies only.

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