It is not so often that Beatrix Potter treasures are offered for sale and even less often that they are of such quality and in such quantity. This collection has obviously been carefully assembled and chosen with great taste.
Beatrix Potter was just twenty-four years old when her brother suggested she might send some of the drawings of her rabbit, Benjamin, to the greetings-card publisher, Hildesheimer & Faulkner. Delighted with them, they paid her £6, and proceeded to use the pictures many times – on cards, and as illustrations in various publications. In this sale there are copies of those (now rare) cards and booklets.
Not enough people know that Beatrix was a knowledgeable botanist, a painter from an early age of flowers, fungi and fruit. Her original watercolours are rarely to be found now but here is an exquisite 1883 painting, on one side ‘berries on a stem’ and on the reverse an unidentified flower.
Then there are the books, not only first editions of Beatrix’s treasured stories published by Frederick Warne – some still with their relatively undamaged glassine jackets, others in de-luxe bindings, a few signed by Beatrix herself – but also copies of her later works, up to the last book for which she wrote the text, Sister Anne, published in 1932, only in America and with illustrations not by her. Then there are the colouring books and the Peter Rabbit race game, all designed by Beatrix Potter.
In 1893 Beatrix bought a Belgian rabbit in London ‘for the exorbitant sum of 4/6’, smuggled him into the house in a paper bag and christened him Peter Piper. He was, of course, the inspiration for her first book, which would be published nine years later. In 1903 she made a Peter Rabbit doll and registered it herself at the Patent Office in London in December that year. The following year the German toy manufacturers, Steiff, made a Peter Rabbit doll – and here in the sale is one of them, in remarkable condition and still with the precious Steiff button in his ear!
During her lifetime Beatrix’s interest in the merchandise of characters from her books was considerable and she was involved with the production of much of it. Over the years, her characters have featured in every conceivable product. I am not knowledgeable about collectibles but in this sale there is a remarkable assembly of (mostly Wedgwood) bone china – a delight for any small child who, of course, would not be allowed to play with any of it! But what intrigues me most are the four papier mache figures, bearing the Frederick Warne stamp, that I have not only never seen before – but never heard of before.
In this sale there are also photographs, a letter from Beatrix Heelis (her married name), a touching hand-written letter from the great Potter collector and cataloguer, Leslie Linder, returning to its original owner a Potter-signed copy of the copyright edition of The Fairy Caravan which had been mistakenly sold.
This collection is a tribute to Beatrix Potter’s extraordinary talent, not only as an artist and storyteller but as a business woman and entrepreneur.
Vice President and Former Chairman
The Beatrix Potter Society