Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Tale of Peter Rabbit

QUESTION: I collect teapots, mostly because I’m a tea drinker and have always liked them. I don’t really have any that are antique or made by famous potteries.  Recently, I purchased a Wedgwood teapot with an illustration and text from Beatrix Potter’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I’ve always loved this book and have read it to my children. What can you tell me about Beatrix Potter and, more specifically, about my teapot?

ANSWER: First, your teapot isn’t that old, but it’s highly collectible. Wedgwood came out with this pattern, known as Peter Rabbit, in the early 1980s. The company has produced a continuous line of items with Peter Rabbit on them, but this collection was the first to literally illustrate Beatrix Potter’s book. Each piece in the collection—this isn’t a set of dishes but a collection of different pieces—features an illustration and the accompanying text from her book. Altogether, the collection contains all the illustrations and text from her book.

Peter Rabbit is one of Beatrix Potter’s most beloved creations. He, along with Jemima Puddle-duck, Tom Kitten and Pigling Bland, all came from her fascination with her childhood pets and her ability to make each take on human characteristics. This is what makes her stories so popular with young children.

Helen Beatrix Potter was born July 28, 1866, in South Kensington, London. Born to affluent parents, Beatrix and her younger brother Bertram spent their childhood in the third floor nursery of Number 2 Bolton Gardens. Potter never attended school like her brother. Instead, a strict Scottish nurse and a succession of governesses educated her at home.

Nature fascinated Potter even as a young child. She and her brother collected animals, fossils, and skeletons. The upstairs nursery became home to an assortment of pets, including rabbits, toads, and mice. The two spent hours at the Natural History Museum studying and sketching insects, fossils and stuffed animals.

Over the next 20 years, the Potter family vacationed in the Lake District, staying at Wray Castle, Fawe Park, Holehird and Lingholm by Derwentwater. When Potter began to write, she used these locations in her books.

After Bertram began boarding school, Potter began taking drawing lessons and at 17 her parents allowed her to take a dozen lessons in painting. She began making greeting cards of her pictures and in 1890 she sent six designs for Christmas cards to the German firm of Hildesheimer & Faulkner, who paid her handsomely for her first published works.

On September 4, 1893, Beatrix wrote an eight-page letter to an ill child, five-year-old Noel Moore, the eldest child of her former governess Annie Carter. Carter had married and become the mother of eight children, the youngest named Beatrix. The letter to Noel was a tale about a rabbit named Peter. Seven years later, Beatrix asked to borrow it back and made a few revisions, created more sketches and decided to publish a book.

After six rejection letters, Potter decided to publish the book herself. She was particular about how the book was to look and specified it was to measure 5 by 3 3/4 inches, making it easier for little hands to hold. Today, her books measure 5 by 4 inches. She also insisted a sketch appear every time a page was turned. She gave away her first 250 books to friends and relatives and in two weeks had 200 more copies published.

In 1902, Frederick Warene & Co., one of the publishers who originally turned down the book, agreed to publish it if Potter did the watercolor illustrations. In 1902, the publisher released The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the story of a naughty rabbit that disobeys his mother and runs into the garden of Mr. McGregor. This became the prototype for all of Potter’s tales, beginning with the famous list of rabbit names—Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.

Today, The Tale of Peter Rabbit is one of the best-selling children's classics of all time, with  more than 40 million copies sold. It has never been out of print and is available in more than 35 languages.

Peter Rabbit and his friends have been immortalized in countless collectibles, from stuffed animals to fine Wedgwood china, which brings us back to your teapot. This item, as well as many of the specialty items in the Wedgwood “Peter Rabbit” Collection are highly prized by collectors of Peter Rabbit memorabilia.

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