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Today, 28th July 2016 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter. A name that we've all grown up with, loving her characters and stories.
The team of Ann and Rob here at Words & Images wrote the following article a while back for antiques magazine, Collect It.
Once upon a time – a hundred and ten years ago, in fact… there was a frog called Mr Jeremy Fisher; he lived in a little damp house amongst the buttercups at the edge of a pond…
And so began the story of one of the most beloved characters created by author, illustrator and scientist, Beatrix Potter who celebrates her 150th birthday, today (1866-1943).
And it’s a hundred and ten years since The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher was first published by Frederick Warne & Co. Prior to this of course, in 1902 Beatrix Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit had been published, enchanting children and adults of that Edwardian era just as much as they are adored by children and adults of the 21st century.
One hundred and ten years ago, The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher would have cost just a few pence. In fact when Beatrix Potter found her stories turned down by publisher after publisher, she decided to print the little books herself. She ordered 250 copies and sold them to her friends and family for a penny or two. Should you be fortunate enough to possess a book from that batch, you would be around £50,000 better off.
Born on July 28th, 1866 in Kensington, London, Beatrix was brought up by a nurse, and educated at home by a series of governesses. She saw her parents only at bedtimes and on special occasions. When she was six years old, her brother Bertram was born.
Beatrix and her family took their summer holidays in Scotland and the Lake District, and it was here that her love of nature grew. Beatrix and her little brother would explore the woods and fields, they caught and tamed wild creatures, and learned to care about wildlife and the countryside.
Beatrix covered pages with her sketches of fungi, flowers and small creatures, including her own pets. The pair had quite a menagerie of pets which they kept in the schoolroom – including at one stage, a green frog and a rabbit. Almost all of her famous characters are based on her own pets.
She first created the character of Peter Rabbit in a now famous picture letter whilst when holidaying in Eastwood, Dunkeld. On September 4th, 1893 Beatrix sat down to write a picture letter to Noel Moore, the five-year-old son of her former governess who was ill in bed. She wrote:
“My dear Noel, I don’t know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits…
The letter was later to become The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The following day she wrote a letter to Noel’s brother, Eric, about a frog called Jeremy Fisher. The famous letters are now being carefully treasured in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
It was some years later that Beatrix thought of publishing the story as a book. She rewrote it into an exercise book and sent it to six publishers - and was rejected by every one of them. Finally she decided to have it printed herself. Only then did publisher, Frederick Warne agreed to publish it. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in 1902, costing one shilling and became one of the most famous stories ever written.
Today The Tale of Peter Rabbit is fifth in the Guardian’s top 100 valuable books, valued at £50,000. A first edition of The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher is also in the top 100, numbered a joint 75th, with the book valued at between £4,000-£6,000.
It’s always worth keeping an eye out for a bargain however, as spotted recently on the Internet was a first edition of The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher in ‘fair condition’ as it had some repairs to it, priced at just £125.
These famous tales weren’t Beatrix’s first venture into publishing however. Her very first book was called A Happy Pair, the illustrations for which were created in 1890. It was published in 1893 by Hildesheimer & Faulkner and included her Christmas card illustrations and poetry by a Frederic Weatherly. Only a handful of copies exist. One however was sold at Sotheby’s in 2001 for £23,250.
It’s not just her books that are collector’s items, sketches too fetch incredible prices. In 2003, for example, two early watercolours by Beatrix Potter were sold for more than £40,000 at Bonham’s, New Bond Street salesroom, London. These pictures were thought to have been painted in 1892 or 1893 but were never published. They were snow scenes both involving two rabbits wearing blue and red jackets.
That same year, a visitor to the Antiques Roadshow was astounded to discover their collection of 23 Beatrix Potter drawings and watercolours was valued at £250,000. The owner’s grandfather knew Beatrix Potter's brother who farmed in the Borders quite near to the artist's home. Many of the pictures pre-dated Peter Rabbit, and some were only half finished, which nevertheless didn’t make them any less interesting. The pictures showed small animals such as kittens, mice and rabbits set in human form.
Discover more about Beatrix Potter at http://www.hop-skip-jump.com/
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