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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 edition, first printing; large 4to (360 x 300 mm.); colour plates and vignettes by Maxfield Parrish; publisher's cloth with onlaid colour pictorial title, a few minor scratches, slight rubbing, but overall a very good copy.

  2. First edition in this format; 16mo; frontispiece and 17 colour illustrations, a very few, minor, light marginal spots to text, shadow of previous retailer's small pencil markings to upper margin of upper endpapers, some discolouration from stitching to fold of pp 36-37, else near-fine; publisher's red boards mounted with colour illustration, slight darkening and rubbing to spine with some loss to white of lettering, otherwise the front cover is very bright and overall a very good copy.

  3. First edition, first or second printing, with date to title, 16mo., colour frontispiece, plain title vignette and 26 colour plates, pictorial endpapers, publisher's green boards with mounted colour illustration, spine slightly faded, still near-fine overall; preserved in custom-made solander box with upper board of book replicated on lid.

  4. Large 4to., 325 x 282mm (12¾ by 11 inches), (40)pp., full-page colour illustrations with further ones within text, publishers spiral-bound card covers, a few spots to extremities, small abrasion to head of rear cover, otherwise a a fine copy.

  5. First trade edition; 4to; frontispiece and 15 colour plates with captioned tissues guards and 126 black and white illustrations throughout by W. Heath Robinson, light spotting to endpapers and extreme edges, else very good; publisher's blue cloth gilt, the upper cover mounted with a pictorial plate, age-toned, bumped on spine ends and a little rubbed, otherwise a decent copy.

  6. Deluxe edition limited to 150 copies only, 4to., xiii, 303 [1], 32 tipped-in colour plates including the frontispiece, by Warwick Goble, with captioned tissue-guards, a few random, faint spots to preliminary pages (as is usual) and extremities of untrimmed edges, otherwise internally bright and fine, publisher's full vellum gilt, closed tear to head of spine and light stain to base, replaced cream endpapers and silk ties, else very good and it presents well.

  7. Limited edition, number 547 of 575 copies, signed by Rackham, 4to., illustrated with 16 tipped-in colour plates vignette line drawings by Rackham, publisher's quarter vellum over pictorial paper boards gilt, top edge gilt, others untrimmed, a age-toning and a few spots to plain endpapers, neat ink ownership to front free one, binding with usual toning, dent to upper edge of upper board, else very-good plus.

  8. Limited edition, number 476 of 600 copies signed by Rackham, 4to. (29,5 x 24cm), 206pp., 24 full-page colour illustrations, 16 of which tipped-in, captioned tissue-guards, 20 black and white drawings, pictorial end-papers, publisher's cream cloth gilt, pictorial vignette to upper cover, top edge gilt, others untrimmed, a few marks, spine darkened with two small stains, otherwise good and internally fine.

  9. 8vo. (25 x 18cm), 4 full-page colour illustrations, 16 black-and-white drawings in the text, original light blue cloth, light wear, original blue dust jacket, a very good copy.



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