22 February 2007

The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter.

Privately printed for the author by Strangeways, London, (1901 and 1902)

Current Selling Prices
$15000-$80000 /£8000-£45000 Want level 25-50 Highish

In 1893, a young Beatrix Potter, on holiday with her parents in Scotland, composed a letter to cheer up the child of her former governess, ill with rheumatic fever. "My dear Noel," she began, "I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits, whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter." The Tale of Peter Rabbit was born. When the manuscript was rejected by several publishers (inc Warne), Potter published the first two private editions of Peter Rabbit at her own expense. It helped that she had money and she was soon to make a great deal more. Both editions totalled only 450 copies and sold out immediately. The first was 250 and the second 200, neither are dated. They are distinguished by the first having a flat spine and the second state a round spine + some minor textual changes. Publisher Frederick Warne agreed to print the first trade edition of Peter Rabbit and presented for the first time the now-familiar format of the book; the earlier black-and-white line drawings were replaced with full-colour illustrations, and the famous prancing image of Peter was mounted on the front cover. First state of the published text has "wept big tears" on page 51, the white dot in the "o's" on the cover and leaf patterned end papers, also the first trade edition contains four colour plates that do not appear after the fourth impression. By the way "wept big tears" was changed to "shed big tears" in the 4th printing, such minutiae can mean goodly sums of money. The real firsts are 5.25 inches x 4 inches in size. Margaret Lane noted: "The size of the book being in accordance with Potter’s own ideas of what a child’s books should be like - small enough for little hands to hold, and printed on stout paper." There is a colour frontispiece, (showing Peter in bed and Mrs Rabbit feeding him Camomile tea) and 41 b/w line drawings, each opposite a page of text. Potter first editions are notoriously difficult to recognise, often relying on recondite 'points', pictorial endpapers, publisher's addresses etc., The date on the title page is often a good start and condition is important as they can turn up pathetically worn.

VALUE? True first state firsts have made as much as $90K in auction this century (the Schiller copy in 2004) a signed one made $80K in 2000, second states about half that. A 'slightly shaken' second state copy made $22K 10 years ago with the ownership signature of Noel Moore, the little boy for whom the story was written. The most remarkable result said at the time to be the highest ever price for a 20th century first edition was in May 1994 - £63,250, achieved at Sotheby's, the copy was given by the author to Zipporah Robinson, a member of the domestic staff at her grandfather's Hertfordshire home. It carried the inscription, "For Zipporah from Beatrix Potter, Christmas 1901". Warne's trade firsts of Peter Rabbit can make over £8K and it makes good money right up to the 4th state. The movie 'Miss Potter' starring Renee Zellweger has been well received and the book seems to be holding its own financially. Some of it was filmed around Cecil Court, the bookseller's row of London. There is talk of an Oscar...

1 comment:

Flora said...

Hi, I appreciate your writing. I grew up watching Beatrix Potter's stories so this was about 15 years ago. But whenever I think of my fondest memories her stories pop up in my head. Thank you for bringing a huge part of mine and other peoples childhood back. Greetings from NY.
peter rabbit