RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS
15 June 2008
The Velveteen Rabbit
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
Margery Williams. THE VELVETEEN RABBIT. Or How Toys become Real. Heinemann, London 1922.
Current Selling Prices
A remarkable book and one of the supreme classics of childhood. Although not as well known as, say, 'Little Black Sambo' or 'Winnie the Pooh' a nice jacketed copy of the true British first is worth a lot more than the pair put together. The first is particularly favoured because of its chromolithographic colour illustrations, replaced by cheaper and less luminous colour printing in subsequent editions. They are by the artist William Nicholson and are some of his finest work in a distinguished career - among other things he designed the logo for Heinemann, the book's publishing house.
The key to the book's enduring appeal is hinted at in this contemporary publicity statement from Heinemann about the book -'Nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.' Nursery Magic. The book explains how and why children and adults become attached to their teddy bears and the secret of what is sometimes a lifetime bond - think of Betjeman and his bear Archibald Ormsby-Gore, better known as Archie and a stuffed elephant known as Jumbo - lifelong companions of the poet and in his arms when he died.
The author Margery Williams was born in London in 1881. She moved to the United States when she was nine-years-old and alternated between living in the United States and England for the rest of her life. She is best known for her thirty children's books, but she also wrote novels for adults and young adults. Her most popular works include The Velveteen Rabbit, Poor Cecco: The Wonderful Story of a Wonderful Wooden Dog Who Was the Jolliest Toy in the House Until He Went Out to Explore the World, and The Little Wooden Doll. 'Poor Cecco' is a scarce Rackham illustrated work- at 105 copies the rarest of all his many limited editions (Doran New York 1925, can make £5K.) Nicholson produced many valuable books, the most valuable being the super limited edition of his exquisite 'Alphabet' (30 copies on vellum 1898) which made £22000 18 years ago. The most amusing is his 'Book of Blokes' 1929 which in the limited edition of 50 has an original sketch and can still occasionally be found for less than a £1000 note (image at bottom.). It is a charming and whimsical book, almost abstract in some depictions and and based on a series of chalk drawings in which he tried to complete a portrait without removing the chalk from the paper and with as few lines as possible. Austin Spare had done the same thing in his freakish automatic drawings coming from a completely different artistic and cultural spectrum.
VALUE? At Christmas 2005 in a packed sale at Dominic Winter auctions, a great favourite with provincial dealers, there were gasps when a copy in a less than brilliant jacket ('dusty, rubbed, chipped & torn') made £8600 -with commissions costing the dealer who bought it over £10,000 to get it out of the rooms. Possibly the result of a pissing competition but not unprecedented. There is a copy on the web in nice shape with jacket, but a curious US/ UK edition at a stonking $16,500 that has been there for many months. A London first described as a 'variant' with the front cover only printed in one colour and the Heinemann's vignette missing on spine foot & rear cover blank in a d/j with minor soiling made $15000 at Christie's New York, Dec 9, 1998. A remarkable result and equivalent to about £12000 in today's terms. Outlook? Unlikely to go much over these figures in difficult times but such is the affection and regard in which the book is held that extraordinary prices are still possible.