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.