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Golden Age of Illustration

The Golden Age of Illustration is generally considered to have taken place between c.1875 & c.1925, during which there was an explosion in the production of illustrated books, brought about largely by the technological advances taking place in Europe and America at that time, particularly in regard to colour printing and high-quality reproduction.

Today we tend to associate this Golden Age of Illustration with the illustrators who became extremely popular in the early part of the 20th century, such as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Maxfield Parrish and Key Nielsen. However, the epoch's origins can definitely be seen in the work of earlier illustrators such as Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane and Richard Doyle.

Rare Books from the Golden Age of Illustration

One of the great things about books from this era is the variety of entry-points for collectors on different budgets. Whilst the extremely deluxe, limited edition, vellum-bound works of Nielsen, Dulac and Rackham can be worth many thousands of pounds when in fine condition, there are normally 'trade edition' equivalents, suitably impressive in their own right, which can be acquired for a lot less.

For those with deeper pockets still, it is possible to find original artwork by the Golden Age of Illustration artists, with prices ranging from a few thousand pounds to multiple tens of thousands, depending on the scale, quality, fame and condition. Inevitably there are forgeries out there, so it would be wise getting the advice of a specialist if you are starting a collection of such artworks.

Golden Age illustrated books from the Victorian era can often be found, and are not always expensive, but condition is paramount. Books such as Kate Greenaway's Almanacs come up quite often, but if in excellent condition or even in their original printed dust-jackets the value can multiply exponentially.

Famous Golden Age of Illustration illustrators

Walter Crane (1845-1915) - works include Baby's Opera, The Shepheard's Calendar, Pan-Pipes, A Masque of Days and Beauty & the Beast.

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) - works include The Language of Flowers, Mother Goose, Day in a Child's Life and her Almanacks.

Edward Austin Abbey (1852-1911) - works include Dickens' Christmas Stories, Shakespeare's Comedies, She Stoops to Conquer and King Arthur Stories.

Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) - works include Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, The Compleat Angler, The Vicar of Wakefield, The Wonder Book, as well as the various fairy tales he illustrated.

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) - works include Arabian Nights, The Knave of Hearts and Dream Days.

Jessie M. King (1875-1949) - works include The Book of Bridges, The Grey City of the North, A House of Pomegranates and Budding Life.

Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) - works include Arabian Nights, A Fairy Garland, The Kingdom of the Pearl, Treasure Island, the Rubaiyat and Sleeping Beauty.

Kay Nielsen (1886-1957) - works include East of the Sun, West of the Moon, In Powder & Crinoline, Hansel & Gretel and Fairy Tales.

Others to look out for include William Timlin, Charles Robinson, William Heath Robinson (who, as well as his wacky inventions, also created great colour-plate illustrations for children's books), Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, the Detmold Brothers and even Beatrix Potter (not least for her contribution to the colour printing process).



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  1. Early editions; 12 volumes in all, 12mo (142 x 107 mm); each with half-title, frontispiece and 26 further illustrations printed in colour, each 85pp.; original pictorial boards and endpapers; comprising:
    i. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. One plate with neatly repaired closed tear at upper margin, otherwise clean; dark brown boards, very good;
    ii. The Tailor of Gloucester. Internally clean; grey-blue boards, very good;
    iii. The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. Internally clean; grey-blue boards, spine very slightly sunned, otherwise very good;
    iv. The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. A few slight stains, otherwise clean; grey boards, spine slightly soiled, otherwise very good;
    v. The Tale of Two Bad Mice. Internally clean; red boards, spine slightly soiled with upper hinge starting to crack, otherwise very good;
    vi. The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. Slight splitting between two gatherings, internally clean; brown boards, extremities slightly bumped, otherwise very good;
    vii. The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. Internally clean; light red boards, slight dampstaining to boards, spine slightly sunned, otherwise very good;
    viii. The Tale of Tom Kitten. Internally clean; brown boards, foot of spine very slightly frayed, otherwise very good;
    ix. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. Internally clean; brown boards, very good;
    x. The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. Internally clean; brown boards, spine and boards slightly sunned, otherwise very good;
    xi. The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse. Internally clean; blue boards, boards slightly soiled, otherwise good;
    xii. The Tale of Tommy Tiptoes. Internally clean; dark green boards, extremities slightly rubbed, otherwise very good

  2. Limited edition, one of 500 copies signed by the artist; 4to (320 x 270 mm); 12 tipped-in colour plates and black & white illustrations and decorations by Kay Nielsen, captioned tissue-guards, occasional light spotting, mostly contained and heavier to endpapers, not affecting text block or plates (different paper uses); publisher's gilt-stamped pictorial vellum, top edge gilt, others uncut (as published, two small marks to bottom edge of upper cover, which is also slightly bowed, otherwise exceptionally clean and bright.

  3. First (Library) edition; 4to; printed on Japanese vellum, publisher's device to title, 12 full-page colour lithographed illustrations by Nicholson; publisher's variant binding vellum-backed pictorial vellum boards, spotted and toned, slightly splayed; accompanied by an envelope of related ephemera.

  4. First edition, first or second printing, deluxe issue; 16mo; 27 colour plates, plain title vignette and colour pictorial endpapers by Beatrix Potter, 2 plates with superficial loss due to adhesion to facing pages, frontispiece lightly touched up to blank recto where cracking slightly, red run from cloth affecting fore-edge and lower fore-corner of most ff., with further impact to preliminary leaves, some other light soiling and finger-marking; publisher's lilac cloth with decorative gilt to design by Beatrix Potter, with inset colour illustration to upper cover, recased with hinges reinforced internally, some damp mottling and rubbing, presented in later cloth solander box.

  5. LIMITED EDITION. 4to. Finely bound by Zaehnsdorf in full dark green morocco, titles to spine gilt, raised bands, title and decorative block to front board gilt, inner dentelles gilt, marbled endpapers, top edge gilt, others untrimmed. With 16 mounted colour plates, captioned tissues. Black and white line drawings in the text. A fine copy.

  6. Edition de Luxe. 4to. Original full green vellum, front cover and spine lettered and pictorially stamped in gilt, pictorial endpapers, top edge gilt, others uncut. With 26 tipped-in colour plates on grey paper. Covers very slightly bowed, minimal wear to extremities. An excellent copy of this title, with the endpapers very slightly foxed as usual.

  7. First edition, deluxe issue, third printing; 16mo; 27 colour plates, plain title vignette and colour pictorial endpapers by Beatrix Potter, small ink name to front free endpaper, overall internally very good; publisher's russet cloth with decorative gilt to design by Beatrix Potter, with inset colour illustration to upper cover, a little rubbing to corner-tips with fore-corners turning in ever so slightly, but overall an unusually good example, gilt edges.

  8. First edition; 8vo; half-title, pictorial title and 20 black & white plates including frontispiece by C. E. Brock, 10pp publisher's adverts at rear, slight age-toning, as usual; publisher's gilt-blocked maroon cloth, top edge gilt, remainder untrimmed, very slight rubbing to extremities and darkening to spine, otherwise a fine copy.

  9. First edition, first issue, [one of 500 copies]; 16mo; 16 colour plates by the author, one plate with pencil initials or flourish beneath, internally excellent, original pink boards lettered and illustrated in black with rounded spine, a superb copy.

  10. First edition thus, number XXI of XXV hors commerce copies, from an overall limitation of 250 copies; 16mo; comprising printed introductory booklet signed & numbered in pencil by Maurice Sendak, with additional pencil signature of printing historian Iain Bain, in original printed wrappers, 34 line block illustrations printed in brown ink on Arches paper, each with pencil limitation details and printed monogram of Alecto Historical Editions on verso, with tissue guard, each loose in separate printed card sleeve; together housed in original cloth drop-back box with inset illustration on upper cover and gilt label on spine, a fine copy.



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