Today, children’s books come in all different sizes and shapes. However, when you think back to your childhood, it seems as if large books that were almost impossible to hold upright in tiny hands dominated the bookshelves. Potter did not wish for her books to fall into this mold. She had a vision of small, inexpensive books, even when publishers shot her down in favor of more elaborate, pricey pieces. The 1980s edition that I own that is replicated after the original is a little over 6 inches.
For the most part, the average length/height for a children’s book is around eight inches or so. Many of the books printed during her time appear to have been roughly this size as well. Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and others of this time appear to have been printed closer to that size than the size Peter Rabbit and her other books were formatted to. The cost to print them was more than a smaller book would have been, therefore making the price go up for children to be able to purchase them.
Once Potter got the publishers to agree with her on the smaller format of books, she continued to strive for cost efficient products through the binding. Warne originally printed two editions of it in 1902. One was a cloth edition (pictured below) that cost a little more to print while the other was a paper bound edition.
Potter did not feel as if the cloth one was very special, at least not enough to warrant the extra money it would take to make and subsequently purchase. The paper edition was marketed at 1s, and the cloth edition cost 1s 6d. Although now, both these editions are worth a great deal more than Potter would have ever imagined.
Illustrations can serve to enhance the story or be the main focus of the piece. With Beatrix Potter’s books, it is hard to separate the story from the illustrations considering how crucial they were to her as an author and to her series of books. In fact, her stories partially came from the art. Originally, she began doing picture letters to children of family and friends. She did not know what exactly to say, so instead she created drawings and stories such as the ones below.
From these letters, she eventually went on to illustrate most of her books herself. Her process would start out with pencil or pen and ink sketches. From there, the story would develop and she would switch to using watercolors to paint a colored version of the art.
Potter loved nature and taking in all the fine details of it. This is often seen in the illustrations of her stories. She often used her own pets, including her rabbit Peter, as inspiration. She took what she knew about her own animals to create the fluid images seen in her series. Potter drew on beautiful nature around her and her own background in studying it to give scenery to the settings described in her texts.
The final product would then be printed into her books using a process where blocks were designed using photomechanical techniques that gave more details. These blocks, Hentschel blocks, would then be inked using a three-color, half-tone process that gave more of a artistic look to her illustrations, most likely making them resemble the original water color designs all the more.
Potter’s illustrations were meant to engage children and capture their attention, and it is something that her books continue to do over a hundred years later.
When Potter initially wanted to publish her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in the early 1900s, no one wanted to publish it. Even the Warne who would later buy the rights to publishing refused it, wanting a more extravagant, bigger book at the time. Potter, ever the determined writer, chose to originally print them on her own so that she could have the books be exactly as she envisioned. To do this, she turned to Strangeway & Sons in 1901 for a private printing. At the time, they most likely used a platen press like the one below. By then, the technology had advanced so that it was automated and would move two platens to print along a fixed bed to create the pages of books.
For the printing of her illustrations, Potter preferred the newer printing methods of three-color half tone process rather than the color wood engraving process that was often used in children’s books during this time. Because of this, Strangeway & Sons, and later even Warne himself, utilized Hentschel blocks. Hentschel created these blocks through process of both photomechanical methods and manual work. This was used to create the color frontispiece used for her original 250 copies she had printed, one of which can be seen below.
While Potter liked the blocks themselves, she did not approve of Hentschel printing her art, even though Hentschel was quite sought after for his work in press and printing. She felt he did not properly handle the blocks and inks, but felt his actual work on the blocks was good enough. When Warne took over for a more mass printing of Peter Rabbit, the blocks were used, however Hentschel was replaced by Edmund Evans as the printer for her illustrations.
Like most things in the printing industry, paper had changed a great deal by the time Beatrix Potter was writing. What had once relied heavily on hand production could now be churned out on a more industrial scale thanks to some inventions that had arisen during the 18th century. By Potter’s time, paper was manufactured and often wood based. This allowed it to be cheaper and more available to the general public. Seeming as how most of Potter’s original works stemmed from letters that she wrote and illustrated, this most likely had a great impact on her as an author.
Most papers used in books are never a pure white color as it makes reading the text more difficult. Potter’s books were no exception to this rule. Her books were printed on a creamy white instead, which showcased both text and illustrations nicely.
While the actual quality and what went into the paper of her books is interesting, the story behind her endpapers is even more fascinating. Originally, Potter wanted to have plain endpapers to give readers a break from the illustrations on the cover and those of the actual story. In the original Peter Rabbit from 1902, the endpapers were printed, colored paper, despite her wishes for a plain colored paper.
However, after his publication of that book, Frederick Warne felt as if the books, which were growing in popularity, needed something different for the endpapers. He requested, much to Potter’s annoyance, that the endpapers feature her characters printed on the pages. Potter eventually relented and designed illustrations for them. However, in more recent editions printed by that of Penguin Books, the endpapers are simple blue paper that is closer to Potter’s desires.