October 2022 marks the 120th anniversary of the first commercial publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and this magnificent collection of facsimiles of items from the Frederick Warne Archives was produced by The Folio Society to mark the occasion. The set is limited to 1000 examples and mine is number 5. There is so much to look at and compare from the very first appearance of Peter in a picture letter eight years before Beatrix Potter privately printed Peter’s first book to replicas of some of the tiny Christmas letters she created, There is also a wonderfully informative booklet which tells the story of the creation of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and has a introduction by Emma Thompson who wrote her own Peter Rabbit stories starting with the 110th anniversary set published by Frederick Warne, see here.
Just how much is included can be seen in the following list:
- Facsimile of picture letter, 1893, printed on Arena Wove paper – 8 pages. 8˝ × 4¾˝
- Facsimile of privately printed edition, 1901 bound in Wibalin paper, printed on Sirio Calce Stucco paper – 88 pages. 5¾˝ × 4¼˝
- Facsimile of maquette, 1902, printed on Arena Wove paper and presented in an archive folder made from Sirio Color paper blocked in silver foil – 88 pages. 5˝ × 3¾˝
- Facsimile of deluxe edition, 1902, bound in cloth with an inset label, printed on Sirio Calce Stucco paper with gold page tops and printed endpapers – 104 pages. 5½˝ × 4˝
- Five Christmas letters printed on Arena Wove paper, each 3˝ × 1½˝
- Giclée print on Modigliani Insize Neve paper with blind embossed frame line – 9˝ × 6½˝
- Commentary set in Caslon, printed on Abbey Pure paper and bound in Sirio Color paper blocked in silver foil – 80 pages. 9½˝ × 6½˝
- Limitation certificate printed letterpress on Fedrigoni Tintoretto Ceylon paper
Lets look at some of the items in more detail
Above are the 1901 (grey) and 1902 deluxe (yellow) edition facsimiles, posed on top of the history booklet. These are beautiful replicas from the black and white privately printed edition to the first commercial version in full colour.
The number of changes between the two volumes makes reading them side by side is a fascinating experience, even the text of the first page of the commercial edition is split over two pages in the original and consequently has two pictures only the second of which survived into the later book. There are also new pictures in the 1902 edition which aren’t in the 1901, but the most noticeable difference when you first pick them up is that only the frontispiece in the early edition is coloured whilst all commercial versions are full colour throughout. I hadn’t seen the original black and white sketches before and they are a lot more crude than the final watercolours that Beatrix produced but they do have a certain charm about them which makes me glad I spent the £325 that The Folio Society charges for the set. Engaging as these books are, and the text is a lot longer in the 1902 version, although the words and picture shown above from the 1901 edition don’t appear at all in the later version it is the maquette that comes between them that is truly interesting.
Here we can see in Beatrix’s own handwriting how she wanted the Frederick Warne edition to appear and apart from a couple of pages reproduced in other books I had never seen this unique edition before. To have the complete book in this form (missing a cover as she didn’t produce one for this version) What I found particularly interesting about this page is that you can see crossing out of words where she intended to change the original text but the words used here are exactly the same as in the 1901 edition but different to what Warne actually printed for this page which runs as follows:
Then he tried to find his way straight across the garden, but he became more and more puzzled. Presently he came to a pond where Mr McGregor filled his water-cans. A white cat was staring at some gold-fish; she sat very, very still and now and then the tip of her tail twitched as if it were alive. Peter thought it best to go away without speaking to her; he had heard about cats from his cousin little Benjamin Bunny
As you can see the text ends the same way as Beatrix’s plan but the start is quite different. The other items included as facsimiles are the 1893 letter which again I had seen small pictures of in various books but never the whole thing and the tiny Christmas letters, there is also a lovely print of Peter eating the radishes in Mr McGregors garden.
This wonderful box set is a lovely edition to my Beatrix Potter collection and has already provided hours of enjoyment in looking at the differences as the story evolved. You can see the video produced by The Folio Society to mark the launch of this collection here.