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.
When you pick up a children’s book such as those created by Beatrix Potter, it is easy to simply focus on the beautiful pictures and fun of the story. One doesn’t realize how crucial the typography of such a book truly is. However, Beatrix Potter did comprehend the importance of this when she was creating the original designs with her publishers.
With children’s books, the text must not only look appealing, but it also must flow with the illustrations and enhance the theme. The text can not simply just be put to the paper, as those who reprinted the centenary edition of Peter Rabbit showed by using a hand spacing of the text to make the layout more fun and appealing for a child.
In the centenary edition of Peter Rabbit published in 2002, typography historian Douglas Martin chose to use Founders Caslon. This typeface was popular of the period in which Potter originally published her first book. Furthermore, as with the original editions, the spacing and contrast between the actual text and the pictures was executed in great detail, as can be seen below.
Caslon’s typefaces had originated and became popular during the 1700s, dominating the preferred styles of most texts. Yet his popularity had fallen as time progressed. However, not too long before Potter’s books were published at the beginning of the 20th Century, a movement to revive his typefaces had began, resulting in an increased use in various versions of his original texts. In the 1840s, the Chiswick Press helmed by Charles Whittingham began using the Caslon styles in their books. As time progressed, it became more widely used for the public once more, and is still in use today.
For as long as I can remember, Beatrix Potter’s characters have been like old friends, always sitting upon my bookshelf waiting for a new adventure. They were a big part of my childhood, and to this day I still treasure my old copies that my mom bought for me as a baby. For that reason, when I saw her books mentioned in the Miller’s Collecting Modern Books textbook, I knew it would be my baby for the semester project.
While it is a children’s book, the details in which Beatrix Potter put into her books is far from simple. She is known for creating her own illustrations for almost every book she wrote, only stopping when she was physically incapable of doing so any longer. She also put great efforts in the design of the books themselves, not just her words and drawings. She worked with the publishers every step of the way, making sure that it turned out just as she wanted, something I doubt was very easy in the early 1900s for an author to do.
For this reason, I feel as if her books are worth being looked at and studied for this project. The details and topics in which we are planning on discussing in class are the very things she wanted to ensure were as perfect as possible with her books, from the words she wrote, to the illustrations, to the texts and bindings used in the publication. It is easy to get caught up in the fun adventures she created and not fully grasp how these books are in their own right a work of art. That is something I hope to be able to show throughout this blog.