“Illustrations. Cruikshank’s Fairy Library.” By Cruikshank, circa 1865-85. Illustrated with etchings on steel.
As a beautiful complement to our Darwin rare books room, which is overflowing with a wide selection of eclectic rare books, we now have an extended Vintage section in our main shop, where you can find all sorts of curious little printed beauties. As a book lover, this is like an old-fashioned sweet shop to me; full of coloured fancies, nostalgic sounding titles, and unusual wrappers. You don’t have to be a book specialist, or even a connoisseur, to appreciate these, or indeed the impressively tasty selection in the Darwin room. All you need is curiosity and a soft spot for books.
But it’s not all about the initial attraction. Vintage and antique books have a special charm that work their magic slowly until, one day, you’ll find you have quietly fallen in love with them, without noticing. It’s a very sweet love, full of affection, respect and enthusiasm. The Darwin room is frequented by just such book lovers, quietly meeting books, falling in love, making them theirs, and taking them home.
Whether it’s the visual magnetism of the gilt spine and mineral based colours, the old familiarity of the name, the story waiting to unfold, or the wisdom that is promised, there are books here that will pull all sorts of heart strings.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know by now that I readily fall in love with books, but I have a particular penchant for illustrated books, especially those with fairies or fairy tales. So this curious little undated cloth-bound collection purely of fairy tale illustrations, immediately caught my eye, as it entered the Darwin room. The illustrations are for four classic short stories published individually, originally in 1853; “Hop-o’ My-Thumb,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Cinderella,” and “Puss in Boots.”
The illustrator, George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was already a well-known caricaturist and illustrator of books for children and adults when he produced these illustrations. He saw fairy tale illustration simply as a way of making money, as his illustrations for the first English translation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales had been quite lucrative, as well as earning him a good reputation. He therefore decided to write, embellish and publish a series of fairy tales himself, and created the Fairy Library.
Rather than faithfully following the conventional telling, he reshaped each story for the sake of each illustration, and these are intricate, detailed, beautifully rendered and charmingly arranged with subtitles. He also used the fairy tales to moralise according to his own beliefs, and as an enthusiastic teetotal advocate, he weaved in warnings about the dangers of alcohol in each of the tales. So quite a biased re-telling! His friend, Charles Dickens criticised him openly for this, appalled by what he considered to be a betrayal of the essential spirit (excuse the pun!) of fairy tales.
Here, however, we just have the illustrations and the brief subtitles collected together, without the alcohol-laced stories. My personal favourites are the Hop-o’ My Thumb illustrations, beautifully framed by the twining branches of a tree, and with several scenes, framed together, showing the story as it progresses, in the same format of modern cartoons, but much more painstakingly executed. So for me, an alcohol free date with this book, yet I am already smitten.
So open up to the curious and let these old books work their magic on your heart. This particular book is estimated at around £350, so not a cheap date by anyone’s standards, but a very classy, and entertaining one, with timeless appeal!
If you haven’t visited us yet, a big warm welcome from the Darwin Rare Books Room. Come and enjoy the timeless, the nostalgic, the glittering extroverts, and the mysterious introverts with hidden qualities ...and experience the romantic appeal of antique books, as we enter into a promising third year here.
If you have a vintage or antique book that has already cast its spell on you, we want to hear about it, whether it is a child’s fairy tale, a historical tome, or an antique machinery manual. What are the particular books that have captivated you, and why?
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Remember, you can browse our Darwin rare books room stock online too, by heading over to our Antiquarian and Rare book collection on Abe books.