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The almost obligatory set of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, in jackets that were slightly sunned to the spines but otherwise fine and valued at £15,000-20,000, for once failed to sell, but a mint copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone of 1997 was sold to Heritage at what must be an auction record £16,000!

Much rarer, but considerably cheaper at £4400 to Marchpane, was the book from which the illustration right is taken, an 1848, first English edition, in original printed boards, of Heinrich Hoffmann’s ...Struwwelpeter, or Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures for Little Children.

A Frankfurt doctor and superintendent of a lunatic asylum, Hoffmann had been in the habit of telling and illustrating stories to distract children for whom a visit to the doctor was a frightening prospect, but it was his
failure to find a suitable book as a Christmas present for his own three-year-old son that launched Shock-Headed Peter, Johnny Head-in-Air, Augustus, Harriet and the fearful scissor-man on the sort of publishing career that Harry Potter and his Hogwarts chums enjoy today.

Hoffmann could find only “long tales, stupid collections of pictures, moralising stories, beginning and ending with admonitions like ‘The good child must be truthful’”. The child, Hoffmann suggested, does not
reason abstractedly, and would be more impressed by one memorable and pointed tale or fable than hundreds of general warnings. He decided instead to buy a blank notebook and write and illustrate his own book, which friends later persuaded him to publish.

The grisly fate of some of those who feature in Hoffmann’s cautionary tales – Harriet, you will recall, played with matches and was burnt to death – may seem far from pretty or funny to our eyes, but the book went into 100 editions in the first 30 years alone and continued to be reprinted and to spawn ABCs, paintings books, etc. well into the last century.