Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - February - 2017 Issue

The Works of Arthur Rackham from Peter Harrington


The Works of Arthur Rackham.

Peter Harrington has published a catalogue of The Works of Arthur Rackham from the Library of an English Bibliophile. This is an exquisite catalogue, living up to what one would want for a selection of Rackham's spectacular artwork. It is filled with pictures of Rackham's illustrations and the books in which they are found.


Arthur Rackham's career as an illustrator began near the turn of the twentieth century and lasted until his death forty years later. His earliest works were in black and white, but within a few years, he was adding color. Early on, he was primarily illustrating children's books for others. However, his drawings were so appealing that he soon was illustrating editions of older books whose attraction was based strictly on his art. It is hard to put art into words, but suffice to say he could create drawings that were detailed and beautiful, and somehow could combine a degree of realism with spectacular fantasy. The result is his books were very desirable in his time, and are highly sought after today.


Harrington's catalogue offers selections from both of the two types of books Rackham illustrated. There were the special editions of works whose primary purpose was to be a vehicle for his art. These are limited edition books, which along with the regular runs, had smaller "deluxe editions." And then, some of the deluxe editions had copies produced in special bindings, sometimes with an extra illustration. At this level, the print runs would only be about a dozen, some set aside for particular individuals. The other category of Rackham books are those that he illustrated for others, with most being children's books. Here, now, are a few samples of each.


We begin with an appropriate starting point – the first book Rackham illustrated. We know this to be his first book as it is Rackham's own copy, and he has written (and signed) within it, "This is the first book that came out with my illustrations." The book is To the Other Side, by Thomas Rhodes, published in 1893. It is a guide to the U.S. and Canada published in time to help the British public make a trip to the other side of the Atlantic for the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. That was the one that introduced such things as the electric light. The book is an extreme rarity. Even 80 years ago, Rackham had no idea where one could find a copy. This copy comes with a letter Rackham wrote bookseller John Carter in 1936 saying that Dawsons of Pall Mall had sold the two copies he once possessed for him, and that he also sold a third copy his brother had owned. Evidently, Scribner's, who employed Carter, had come into the possession of those copies because in 1935, they offered this very copy (with Rackham's notation) for sale for $225. That was a ton of money 80 years ago in the midst of the Depression. In that listing, Scribner's described it as "one of only three recorded copies." This copy also comes with a letter from Helen Clampett on Scribner's stationary which included the aforementioned Rackham letter to a Mrs. Barnum, stating that they had tried to get a copy from Rackham and this was his reply. "I thought it might be good fun for you to stick it in the book," she adds. Presumably, Mrs. Barnum purchased the book from Scribner's, either for herself or on behalf of someone else. We have not been able to locate any other copies of this cloth-bound first edition, but there was also a separate paper-bound second issue in 1894. Item 122. Priced at £19,500 (US $24,812).


The previous book also contained illustrations by other artists. The first book to be solely illustrated by Rackham came the following year and is far more obtainable. Item 123 is The Dolly Dialogues, by Anthony Hope, published in 1894. It had first been published in the Westminster Gazette before being released in book form. Item 123. £350 (US $445).


Rackham's first solely illustrated limited editions book was published in 1905. This was not a simple child's tale, nor a first edition, the book originally published almost a century earlier. The book is Rip Van Winkle and the writer was Washington Irving, America's first, along with James Fenimore Cooper, internationally acclaimed author. This title quickly established Rackham as the leading illustrator of gift books. Item 1 is a copy of the Deluxe Edition of Rip Van Winkle, #137 of 250 copies, signed by Rackham. £6,500 (US $8,272).


Rackham's work caught the eye of J. M. Barrie. Barrie had just had a great success with his play Peter Pan. He wished to publish a book version of the Pan story. The two were introduced, and Rackham took on the task of illustrating Barrie's story. The result was Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, published in 1906. It was intended primarily as a children's book, having been taken from a larger collection of stories for adults, The Little White Bird, published in 1902. While the trade edition of Pan was intended for children, it is more likely the Deluxe Edition was not meant for little fingers. Item 4 is copy 157 of 500 of the Deluxe Edition, signed by Rackham. £7,500 (US $9,545).


This is one of Rackham's later books, though one of the older ones he illustrated. The Compleat Angler is undoubtedly the most important fishing, perhaps sporting book of any kind. Originally published in 1653, it is still a classic in the field. Izaak Walton's book was a natural for a Rackham interpretation, which came out in 1931. Offered is copy #1 of 757 of the Deluxe Edition, and one of 14 "special copies" in a luxury binding. It contains an original signed pen and ink and watercolor sketch by Walton. It shows a fisherman approaching a nervous frog, with the caption "Handle him as if you loved him." That was Walton's advice for handling frogs before impaling them on a hook. This copy likely originally went to publisher George Harrap as he usually retained copy #1. Item 83. £27,500 (US $35,000).


Peter Harrington may be reached at 020 7591 0220 (USA 011 44 20 7591 0220) or mail@peterharrington.co.uk. Their website is www.peterharrington.co.uk.

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