In 1922, Beatrix Potter, with her most famous little books already behind her, was persuaded by Anne Carroll Moore of the New York Public Library to produce a book of illustrated nursery rhymes.
Using a mix of old drawings and a few new ones, she came up with
Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes.
The four illustrations used for 'This Pig went to Market',
though originally created in the 1890s, were redrawn for
publication. Three of those are now in the National Trust
collections, but the complete set of her original, 19th century
watercolours was seen once more at Sotheby's London on July 10.
There are a number of differences between the originals and the
published versions. The last illustration is reversed, and where
the words 'To Porkham' appear on the signpost in the 1922 version,
in this original the owl perches on a sign pointing to Melford
Hall, the home of Beatrix's cousin, Stephanie Hyde-Parker, for whom
the pictures were first made.
In 1999, these illustrations were sold by a descendant of the
Hyde-Parkers at Sotheby's for £65,000, but the market is not as
strong as it was then and this time the price was just
Also making a second appearance was an ink and watercolour
drawing of 'Three Rabbits eating Plenty of Buns' sent by BP
(c.1893-95) as a Christmas greeting - the message spelled out on
the labels of the jars and bag of buns pictured.
This was one of the unrecorded items in a group of pictures,
books, letters, etc once owned by her brother, Bertram, that in a
2008 Sotheby's sale was billed as "the most extensive group of
Beatrix Potter artworks to have appeared on the market in living
The prices paid for one or two of those lots - notably copies of
her 'Rabbits Christmas Party ' watercolours given to Bertram - were
described at the time by department specialist Philip Errington as
having "launched Beatrix Potter into an altogether different price
stratum of the art market". One of them, 'The Departure', sold at
In that 2008 sale, an estimate of £40,000-60,000 was placed on
those bun-eating rabbits, but it made only £34,000. It was
suggested then that the fact that the rabbits' faces are almost
wholly obscured had worked against it, and this may once again have
been the case in this summer's sale. Given the same estimate, it
sold for £45,000.
Two other undated ink drawings of rabbits as 'Apple Gatherers',
one of which BP re-visited for an illustration in Peter Rabbit's
Almanac of 1929 sold at £8000 and £13,000 at Sotheby's.
Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny featured in a pair of
watercolour-on-silk doilies sold by Dominic Winter of South Cerney
for £14,500 on June 21.
Each showing Peter Rabbit wrapped in a white-spotted red
handkerchief, they were once part of a set of 12 silk doilies that
BP gave to Charlie and Cecily Townley, the children of family
friends who lived at Hardcragg Hall in Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria.
It was the Townley home and its piggery that inspired The Tale
of Pigling Bland, a book that is dedicated to Charlie and
In 1996 the vendor had paid £9500 for the watercolours at
Christie's South Kensington, where the full set of 12 was sold as
six pairs for a total of £52,000.
The most expensive BP book seen in recent times was an
exceptionally well-preserved copy of the very first to include some
of her illustrations, A Happy Pair of 1890. These
illustrations were originally Christmas and greeting card designs
of anthropomorphised rabbits - based on her own pet, Bouncer - that
she sold to the publishers Hildesheimer & Faulkner, but which
were also issued in this small booklet, with the addition of verses
by the Victorian songwriter Frederick Weatherly.
Of the copies seen at auction in the past 35 years, said the
cataloguer of a copy offered by Sotheby's New York on June 15,
"none has survived the injury of time in so unblemished a state".
It did sell for a high-estimate $25,000 (£16,045), but some of
those other copies made more and, in 1997, a less attractive
example in the magnificent BP collection formed by Doris
Frohnsdorrf reached $55,000 (then £33,550) at Christie's East.
In the Dominic Winter sale of June 21, a virtually mint copy of
the rare deluxe issue of The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck of 1908,
complete with printed glassine wrapper and the best they had ever
seen, was sold for £6800. Again we go back to the late 1990s to
find the record holder - £10,000 at Sotheby's - but the sum paid
for the South Cerney copy has not otherwise been bettered at
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