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The Unique Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter 8 July 1866 -December 22, 1943

2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter, the writer and illustrator of books of the Peter Rabbit series books. Her 23 children’s books remain as popular today as when they were first published – Peter Rabbit has never been out of print since it’s publication in 1902. What makes her books so unique?

Beatrix Potter had an extraordinary flair for storytelling.

As a young child Potter was fascinated by Edward Lear’s Nonsense Rhymes and Limericks as well as the whimsical writings of Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland. She really understood a children’s delight in the sounds of meaning and words. Potter paid great attention to the words and descriptions of her animal characters. They had to have human emotions and habits that complement the animal’s natures. Beatrix believed that ‘all writers for children ought to have a sufficient recognition of what things look like’. In a letter she criticized Kenneth Grahame’s description of The Wind in the Willows’s Toad as ‘combing his hair … A mistake to fly in the face of nature – A frog may wear goloshes; but I don’t hold with toads having beards or wigs!’ (letter to Mrs M.E. Wight, 26th June 1942). Mr Jackson, the toad in her Mrs Tittle-mouse’s tale sat and water dripped off his coat tails and she had to wipe his large wet footprints off the parlour floor.

Potter was a prolific writer

Throughout her life Beatrix Potter was a letter-writer and keeper of a journal. Her image is often as a rather sombre and ‘unamused’ person. In her letters however, her sense of humour comes across. She often sent “mini-letters” written on tiny pieces of paper folded tightly and posted in small hand made mailboxes. Her letters and tales often contained sketches of the animals and wild life of her beloved Lake District. Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was initially written as a letter to the poorly son of her former governess Annie Moore.  She commented that it was was addressed to ‘a real live child … not made to order’. Her tale about “four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter” became one of the most notorious children’s letters ever written and launched her career as a storyteller and illustrator. As her fame spread around the world  Potter continued to write letter to her fans.

Potter was a self taught artist.

Beatrix Potter was  home schooled and it maybe that her lack of formal education ensured that she maintained her originality. She was surrounded by the culture of The Golden Age of Illustration, Pre-Raphelite and the exploration of science of the time. In her youth Potter was a regular visitor to the Royal Acadamy of Arts and the Natural History Museum in London.  She described the museum as ‘the quietest place I know – and the most awkward’ (journal entry, Friday 20th December 1895). Potter’s fascination with natural history ensured scientific accuracy whilst maintaining a fantasy like quality to her illustrations. Although Potter was mindful of the artistic trends of her time, her style of drawing and writing remained uniquely her own.

Potter was a shrewd business woman.

To earn some money in the 1890’s, she and her brother designed and printed Christmas and special occasion cards. Typically the illustrations were of animals she saw in her home of the Lake District.  These drawings of rabbits and mice were sold to illustrate books of verses.  Her success in selling these drawings gave her confidence. After her illustrated story of Peter Rabbit was turned down, she had 250 copies privately printed in 1901 for distribution to her friends. It proved so popular that another 200 copies were required in the next year. The publications caught the eye of the publisher, Frederick Warne. He agreed to publish eight thousand trade copies  with colour illustrations in 1902. These were quickly followed by a further twenty one illustrated story books. Beatrix Potter showed a keen interest in the design of her books, and designed deluxe bindings for her books. These were sold at a higher price than the regular trade edition. Potter quickly recognised the need for marketing merchandise to promote her books. In 1903 she made and patented a Peter Rabbit doll. Other related merchandise such as painting books, board games, wall-paper, figurines, and china tea-sets were produced. Frederick Warne licensed the products earning immense profits for himself and for Potter. 

Beatrix Potter’s books are notoriously difficult to date.The-Tale-Of-Two-Bad-Mice-Beatrix-Potter-1904 (16)

First editions of Potter’s books are highly sought after, especially the deluxe versions. However, it can be difficult to determine the authenticity of a Potter first edition book. Frederick Warne used a dating process which is not easily decipherable. As a result reprints can resemble the original book. First editions are usually dated at the foot of the title page in the imprint or publishers details. Later editions have no date in the imprint. A copyright date on the back may show the first date of publication, but this does not confirm a first edition status. The publishing company, Frederick Warne, became a limited company after 1917. This means any book with “Limited” or “Ltd” in the company name are printed after 1917 and are therefore reprints. Issues of her books after 1967 bear an ISBN or International Standard Book Number. Being rather fragile books, and generally given to young children, surprisingly few early copies of Peter Rabbit survive intact. They are highly sought after collector’s items.

Beatrix Potter is generally considered to be “one of a kind”. Her love of nature extended to the conservation of land. She is credited with preserving  much of her beloved Lake District by leaving almost all her property to the National Trust. Her original illustrations and letters are housed in several museums including the Beatrix Potter Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Free Library of Philadelphia. Quite a legacy for the writer and illustrator of “the little books”.

To see more books of Beatrix Potter go here.

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Collecting Ian Fleming First Edition Books

Collecting Ian Fleming First Edition Books

Fleming’s Bond books are perhaps the most popular and iconic thriller series ever produced. There remains some attraction in identifying with the character and his lifestyle – how many men don’t secretly desire to be Bond at least in some small way! The James Bond “product” has generated all manner of associated gadgets and memorabilia, yet a Bond first edition book holds genuine authenticity and cudos over other merchandise. It would be hard to believe there are any around the world not proudly displayed in cabinets or on shelves.

With the launch on Monday 26th October of the new James Bond film, Spectre, focus on the collecting Ian Fleming’s first edition Bond books will be re-ignited. They have always remained consistently appealing to collectors of modern fiction but here are some interesting facts for the novice.

  • Ian Fleming only published fourteen James Bond novels so collecting them is a manageable task.  Anyone starting off a collection already has some boundaries set so there is no chance of getting carried away and going off piste!
  • Identifying the novels is relatively straightforward and so is an ideal way to start off collecting modern literature. Jonathan Cape published all the UK versions of the novels so recognising the publishing details are relatively clear. They should all say Jonathan Cape on the title page. Also they should state “First Published …” with the correct year on the back of the title page. Any second or later impressions will be clearly stated.
  • James-Bond-first-edition-collection-Ian-Fleming-Live-and-let-dieIdeally a good collection will consist of books with their original dust jackets and some of the fun in collecting them is to seek out such books. Beware of jackets from later editions being placed on original books. As a rule of thumb, knowing the sequence of books in the series and then checking to make sure a later book is not mentioned on the jacket of an earlier book, should help determine whether it is the correct jacket for the book or not. Identifying a first edition dust jacket can also be done by checking that no reviews from newspapers or journalists are included on the dust jacket flaps. Later impressions of the book will naturally have these reviews included. Those that have retained their pricing on the front flap are called ‘not price-clipped’ and will be more valuable. The only other point to note is that “Live and Let Die” had three ‘issues’ of the first edition, first impression. The first and most valuable edition has no reference to the jacket designer at all; the second edition has the reference centered in the white space below the text on the inside front flap of the jacket; for the third edition it is placed just below the text. They are all valuable books but decrease in cost from first to third.
  • James Bond novels can be relatively affordable especially for the later books. It is certainly best to start with the more recent and affordable publications. First editions become more expensive as you start moving toward the earlier books in the series. Of course, as ever, condition is the key but even poor condition copies of the earlier books can fetch a reasonable sum. Fine and pristine copies can be worth several thousand pounds but it is perfectly possible to build up a good collection of reasonable books priced at a few hundred pounds each.
  • James Bond books remain a beautifully designed set of books which look great on You-Only-Live-Twice-Ian-Fleming-1964-First-Editionthe shelf. Everyone has their favourite jacket design. The dust jacket designs by Kenneth Lewis, Pat Marriotand, of course, Richard Chopping, all have special attributes that set them apart from each other. Choppping’s  Trompe L’Oeil style was distinctive and menacing. He could even make a toad with a captured dragonfly seem menacing as he did for “You Only Live Twice.”
  • Collecting James Bond novels is especially fun when a new Bond film comes out! The release of the Casino Royale film in 2006 considerably increased the sales of the book of the same name. What was additionally great for book collectors was that the dust jacket for the book inspired the opening sequence of the film.
  • Adding to the fun of collecting Ian Fleming’s novel is the hunting down of the earlier copies of the Bond novels. These earlier titles were initially published in smaller quantities. The first novel, Casino Royale, had a print run of only 4,700 copies. Many of these went to libraries so were well used and invariably lost their jackets. The later books, such as Octopussy, had a run of 50,000 so great copies of these editions are more easily affordable.

Once started, a first edition collection of Ian Fleming books can become compelling! Finding a finer and better copy of a James Bond book is the new challenge. The subtleties of the condition of the book and dust jacket become more intense and it becomes a little like building up a fine wine collection! If you start on the quest of collecting Ian Fleming books we wish you good luck in your adventure! James-Bond-first-edition-collection-Ian-FlemingRare and Antique books holds the complete collection of James Bond books. See more Ian Fleming novels here.