The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter

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.

1901 Privately printed edition
1902 Deluxe version of the first commercial edition

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.

1902 Maquette

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.

Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter and Emma Thompson

For the 110th anniversary of the first publication of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter in 1902 her publisher, Warne, commissioned a very special edition.

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One thousand copies were printed of this collectors set of the original Peter Rabbit, with some illustrations included for the first time as Beatrix Potter had actually done too many for the book that was first published and indeed almost all subsequent editions. Alongside this the actress and writer Emma Thompson created a new work illustrated by Eleanor Taylor to take the story further. Inside the outer card box you are presented with another box…

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and within that the lined purple inner with the books inside presented in their separate sections.

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This is certainly a luxurious edition of a classic children’s tale, and so it should be for the purchaser got two small hardbacks along with a facsimile letter to Peter from Emma Thompson for the, clearly opportunistic, price of £110.00.

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Now don’t get me wrong the production level of this set is extremely high, the books are cloth bound with a specially designed print and just 1000 copies were made with a retail price of £110, but that is still a large sum for Warne as the margins on books for the retail booksellers are actually quite small and this sold out almost immediately so Warne very quickly made their profit. I paid considerably less than this when the set came out by buying from Amazon and there are currently a couple of sets available on Abebooks for around that price (including postage costs) but the set has largely vanished from the secondary market which may mean that I have made a good investment although that wasn’t the reason I bought it.

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This is probably one of the finest editions of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter yet printed, and I do have the two 100th anniversary editions (cloth or cream leather bound) produced in even smaller amounts back in 2002, (500 cloth and 100 leather bound editions). But this is truly lovely with the purple page edging and the exceptionally fine printing of the remastered illustrations including various versions never before included in a single copy of Peter Rabbit. A prime example of which is shown below as this was in the 1902 first edition but dropped in 1903 for the reprint, not to appear again for 109 years. Other pictures never made early editions for reasons of space but are now included in this printing.

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Emma Thompson actually made a very good job of capturing Beatrix Potters original style and whilst the illustrations by Eleanor Taylor lack the fine definition of Potter’s originals they do still capture the flavour of the much earlier books.

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That they were successful can be seen by the later production of two more titles by Emma Thompson, The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit in 2013 and The Spectacular Tale of Peter Rabbit in 2014. The Further Tale is also available as a separate volume outside of this collectors set.

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As can be seen above Peter has not learnt his lesson from 110 years ago and is still intent on exploring Mr McGregor’s garden and the wonderful selection of vegetables to be found there. This time he climbs into his picnic basket, rather than a damp watering can, and eats the sandwiches to be found there before, feeling full, he falls asleep in the basket. Waking in a rocking basket he finds that he is on the back of a cart heading off into the countryside an just manages to escape when he is found to be the picnic thief. Running away he encounters a giant Scottish rabbit

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and ends up as an unwilling participant in the bunny equivalent of the The Highland Games. The gentle humour of the new book is a welcome counterpoint to Beatrix Potter’s quite often more near the knuckle story telling and I can see why Thompson was asked to write two more sequels.

Of the classic twenty three books usually collected in the box sets of Potter’s works all but two have now passed 100 years old, we just have Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes (1922) and The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930) to go. There are several others not normally counted such as The Fairy Caravan (first printed in the US 1929 and UK 1952) right up the The Tale of Kitty in Boots which didn’t get it’s own printing until 2016 when it was illustrated by Quentin Blake but this box set includes a fine edition of the first Potter book and also the first official book set in her stories not by Potter. It’s an interesting, if rather expensive, addition to the oeuvre and with the popularity of the tales only increasing with the release of new films it should be regarded as a landmark set for Beatrix Potter collectors.