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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. First trade edition, first issue with date on title-page and a single-page endpaper repeated four times; 16mo; 27 full-page colour illustrations, title vignette and pictorial endpapers by the author; publisher's dark green boards with inset colour illustration, presented in later cloth solander box.

  2. First editions, each with signed bookplate mounted on inside front cover, [presumed one of 25 or 26 such sets]; 13 vols, 8vo; publisher's bookplate mounted onto inside front cover of each volume, illustrations; publisher's pictorial wrappers, fine copies.

  3. First edition, one of 100 numbered copies; 16mo (138 x 108 mm.); usual light browning to free endpapers; publisher's green cloth, dust-jacket, an excellent copy.

  4. First Edition. 16mo, 94 pp., title vignette, 15 colour plates and numerous black and white vignettes within text, modern full tan morocco, gilt, original pictorial pastedown to upper cover, green lettering piece to spine, original pictorial endpapers and all edges gilt; small mark to lower outside corner of p.7 otherwise internally very good indeed.

  5. Limited edition, number 192 of 500 copies, signed by the Thomson; 4to, (320 x 265 mm); 20 colour plates with engraved and captioned tissue-guards, further engraved illustrations and vignettes throughout, contemporary ink presentation to front fly-leaf toning to extremities, occasional, light spotting to endpapers and some text margins, worming holes to outer margins of final leaf and rear fly-leaf, otherwise near-fine; publisher's cream vellum, heavily gilt panelled and blocked to upper cover and spine, top edge gilt, others untrimmed, replaced tie ribbons to style, age-toned (as usual), more so to spine, slight abrasion to outer edge of upper cover and mark to rear one, otherwise very good-plus.

  6. Large-paper edition, number 40 of 560 copies, signed by Rackham, 4to., xix, (blank), 549, (blank)pp., 24 tipped-in colour plates with captioned tissue guards, 12 tinted plates, and 66 black & white drawings within the text, pictorial endpapers, browning to half-title and limitation leaf, otherwise near-fine, publisher's full vellum gilt, top edge gilt, others untrimmed, as published, original silk ties, slight age-toning, otherwise a near-fine copy.

  7. First edition, first printing (with the correct front and rear endpapers according to Linder and a coeval gift inscription); 16mo; colour frontispiece, plain title vignette, 14 colour plates and colour pictorial endpapers all by the author, contemporary ownership inscription to front free endpaper, a little light finger-marking and similar, otherwise internally very good; publisher's red boards lettered in white and with inset colour illustration to upper cover, very slight splaying, some marking and edge-wear, spine slightly dulled at worn at ends, presented in later cloth solander box.

  8. First edition, first, second or third printing; 16mo; 27 colour plates, plain title vignette and colour pictorial endpapers all by Beatrix Potter, light stain to top edge affecting leaves to diminishing degree up until page 27, otherwise internally very good; publisher's beige boards blocked in white with inset colour illustration to upper cover, slight darkening to spine with small splits and some rubbing to head, but overall a very good example, presented in later cloth solander box.

  9. First edition, 8vo, [xvi], 120 pp., with frontispiece and 31 plates, headpieces throughout, partially unopened; publisher's maroon cloth gilt, bevelled edges, top-edge gilt, wood-engraved printed dust-jacket; slightly rubbed at extremities, dust-wrapper lightly chipped, back splitting slightly, otherwise nonetheless a very good copy.

  10. First edition; 8vo (187 x 135 mm.); wood-engraved frontispiece, title vignette, 6 plates and 5 vignettes, by Arthur Hughes, upper hinge pulling slightly with some splitting at hinge plus 2 small abrasions to front endpapers, but overall internally very good; publisher's blue cloth blocked in gilt with pictorial design to upper cover and gilt stamp to lower cover for the Albion Crescent School Dowanhill [Glasgow], gilt edges, rubbing and minor bumping to extremities, spine very slightly dulled.



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