Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger appear in the pen and ink drawing Swaggering Down the Steps sold for £26,000 at Cheffins.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

However, the most memorable and influential of these artists who helped the public visualise Grahame’s story was Ernest Howard Shepard (1879- 1976). He provided drawings for the first illustrated edition of 1931, full-page pen and ink illustrations for the 101st edition of 1951 and full colour versions for a special printing in 1959 that marked the book’s golden anniversary.

The 10 x 8in (25 x 20cm) drawing offered by Cheffins in Cambridge on December 7 was an original illustration from the 1951 edition. It shows a disapproving Rat, Mole and Badger greeting a pompous Toad on the steps of Toad Hall as he contemplates the purchase of a new motor car.

Signed and inscribed with the title Swaggering Down the Steps, it is also annotated with printing instructions. To the reverse is the note Original drawing the property of Ernest H Shepard Long Meadow Longdown Guildford, Surrey.

It was on the market for the first time since it had been bought at the Walker’s Galleries show Water Colours and Drawings by Ernest Shepard held in 1953. The original frame has the exhibition label to the reverse. Cheffins found it hanging on the stairwell of an East Anglian country house.

It was estimated at £8000-12,000 but such a fine and relatively large image of much-loved characters attracted bidding to £26,000 (plus 24.5% buyer’s premium).

Direct price comparisons are difficult but in June 2020 Christie’s New York sold one of the original drawings for Shephard’s 1931 edition for $24,000. The smaller ink and pencil drawing titled Mole at Home was one made shortly after Shepard and Grahame first met at the author’s house in Pangbourne in 1930. Famously Grahame, who died the following year, had said to him: “I love these little people, be kind to them.”