Illustrated Books From John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller
Illustrated Books from John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller
By Michael Stillman
John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller, has issued his 39th catalogue, "Illustrated Books and Fine Bindings." If the typical book is purchased based on its text, these books are designed to appeal to other motivations. Their appeal is primarily in their beauty, be it the illustrations within or the bindings which hold them. They are physical as well as intellectual works of art.
John Tenniel was perhaps the most notable cartoonist illustrator of the 19th century. In 1850, he was selected to be one of two cartoonists for Punch, the top humor magazine of the era. He went on to draw over 2,000 such cartoons for the magazine, as well as illustrating many books. The most famous of those illustrations are the ones he provided for Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," and "Through the Looking Glass." His work would earn Tenniel the honor of being knighted by the Queen of England, and with it the title "Sir John Tenniel." The book which garnered the attention of Punch Magazine and set off his great career was Aesop's Fables: A New Version...With More than One Hundred Illustrations Designed by John Tenniel. Item 5 is a first edition from 1848 of Aesop, Tenniel's first major work. Priced at $525.
Speaking of Tenniel's most famous illustrations, here they are in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Item 60 is a later edition of this classic, but comes with an inscription from Charles Dodgson, the real name of "Lewis Carroll." Dodgson/Carroll obscures the name issue by simply signing it "from the author." It is a presentation copy to Florence Darley, who may have been the British actress of the time. $8,500.
One of the best known of illustrated children's books is Helen Bannerman's The Story of Little Black Sambo. It is unlikely that Bannerman imagined the popularity this book would achieve among children, or the controversy it would go on to spawn. The story, set in India where the British author lived at the time, is a wonderful tale of how a little boy appeases a group of hungry tigers by offering them his fine new clothes. The greedy tigers fight each other for them, spinning around in circles so fast they churn themselves into butter, just right for the pancakes his mother is making. If that's all there was to the book, the appealing storyline and illustrations would probably have kept this a beloved classic still today. Unfortunately, the specificity of the boy's race, and his name, generally considered derogatory by the Black community, have made it a controversial piece. It is unlikely Ms. Bannerman ever meant to hurt anyone. Any prejudices she may have harbored were probably part of the assumptions of her time, and unconscious on her part. Given hindsight, she likely would have picked another name for her character, but history cannot be changed, and so this otherwise delightful book will always have its ugly side as well. Item 29 is a fourth edition from 1900. $1,250.
Illustrated Books From John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller
Paul Bransom illustration from The Argosy of Fables
Another favorite children's character who has managed to stay free from controversy is Babar. It is much simpler being an elephant. Babar was the elephant who grew up in Paris, but returned to the elephant realm to serve as king. If ever a book qualified to be noted for being an illustrated book, this is it. While most people have probably forgotten the details of the lives of Babar and his lovely, if portly wife Celeste, who can forget the image of Babar in his dashing green suits? Not even St. Patrick could compare to Babar when it came to "wearin' o' the green." Item 49 is the first English translation of the Jean de Brunhoff classic The Story of Babar the little elephant from 1933. $575.
Item 139 is E.S. Tucker's The Book of Pets, illustrated by Maud Humphrey. This book contains numerous illustrations of children and animals by Ms. Humphrey, a respected American illustrator of the time. However, Ms. Humphrey is now better remembered for something entirely different. She was the mother of Humphrey Bogart. $275.
Item 227 is an early talking book. You remember talking books, don't you? They are the ones where a recorded voice would read the text, and at the end of each page, tell you to turn to the next. You can tell this talking book is old by the fact that the record which accompanies it is a 78. This is The Magic Wood Story and Music...by Harry Phillips, and if you have an old phonograph that plays 78 rpms, you can give this book a spin. Good luck finding one of those 78 needles. Published/recorded in 1948. $250.
A wonderful collection of American images created by notable artists of the time is found in Picturesque America. Or, The Land We Live In. Edited by William Cullen Bryant, this two-volume work published in 1872-1874 includes engravings of American cities, towns, and scenic sites such as Yellowstone Falls and Mount Hood. Item 50. $1,150.
Item 43 is a limited edition of An Argosy of Fables... illustrated by Paul Bransom. This is copy 31 of 365, and includes fables from around the world, accompanied by the color plate illustrations of Bransom (see image this page). From 1921. $975.
What's for dessert? Item 170 is headed Polly put the kettle on we'll all make Jell-O. This overtly self-promotional piece was put out by the Genesee Pure Food Company of LeRoy, New York, in 1924. While the booklet is complete with wrappers and Maxfield Parrish illustrations, Windle sadly notes that the four-page ice cream supplement, which was attached by string, is missing. It's less rich that way. $125.
John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller, is located on the web at www.johnwindle.com and may be reached by phone at 415-986-5826.