Helen Beatrix Potter (July 30, 1866-December 22, 1943)

Born in Bolton Gardens in London, Helen Beatrix Potter was named for her mother and was called Beatrix throughout her life.  Potter’s family was a privileged one, and she was provided with governesses for her upbringing and education, and private art lessons. Family holidays spent in Scotland and the English Lake District inspired in her a love of nature, which combined with her artistic talent, resulted in the works for which she is beloved.

Her publishing career began with some greeting cards and a booklet called A Happy Pair, which she illustrated for Frederic Weatherly and published in 1890. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, written and illustrated by Potter was privately printed in December 1901, and was picked up by the publisher Frederick Warne for commercial publication in 1902. The Tale of Peter Rabbit launched Potter’s rising star.

Many stories and little books followed over the years, and Potter accumulated properties in the Lake District in what is now Cumbria (part of northwest England). She married William Heelis in 1913 and eventually began breeding a particular kind of sheep, Herdwicks, for which she won many prizes and judged some competitions.

Family photographs.

 

Shown is one of Beatrix Potter, her father, Rupert Potter, and her brother, Walter B. (Bertie). Taken at Eastwood, Dunhill, Scotland, October 12, 1892.

 

Gift of Mrs. L. Wister Randolph

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Beatrix Potter. Autograph letter to Mrs. James DeWolf Perry, dated April 25, 1929. Signed: Beatrix Heelis.

 

     What a charming little bunny you have sent me! He is just the image of the original Benjamin when I brought him home (surreptitiously – if that’s the way to spell it) – from a London bird shop in a paper bag. His existence was not observed by the nursery authorities for a week…

     It’s very pleasant to meet appreciative Americans, and to feel that you value old associations and will take care of our treasures, that have to cross the seas. When Americans are willing to give £50,000 for a single Romney portrait, it is better that it should go…

 

This letter most likely refers to a greeting card sent to Beatrix Potter – an image that brought to mind the memory of the rabbit that started it all, Benjamin. It’s comforting to know that Potter approved of Americans taking care of the “treasures” that they valued enough to pay large sums of money for. The recipient, Marian Frazer Harris Perry, was the widow of James DeWolf Perry, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. She was one of Beatrix Potter’s American visitors who became a very good friend and frequent correspondent. The collection contains over 50 of her letters from Beatrix Potter, most given by Mrs. Perry’s niece, Mrs. Richard Stevens.

 

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Photograph of Beatrix Potter at Hill Top, 1913

 

 

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Photograph of Beatrix Potter and her brother Walter B. Potter (Bertie) probably taken about 1892.

Gift of H. Bacon Collamore

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Frederick Weatherly. A Happy Pair. Illustrated by H. B. P. London: Hildesheimer & Faulkner, New York: George C. Whitney, [1890].

 

This set of six chromolithographed illustrations represents Beatrix Potter’s first published work. She had set out to design Christmas cards, with her pet Benjamin Bouncer as the subject, and had sent the completed drawings to several publishers. Hildesheimer & Faulkner accepted the designs, but decided to use them as illustrations to some verse by Frederick Weatherly.  

 

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Beatrix Potter. “Bunnies in the Snow.” Watercolor drawing. 1894.

 

Potter achieved success designing greeting cards before beginning her literary career. Watercolor drawings appear on both sides of this card: the first drawing (shown) depicts one bunny pulling the other in a sled; the second drawing depicts the sled overturned and bunnies in the snow. Signed “HBP 94.” In lower right corner: “Turn over.”

Gift of Mrs. W. Atlee Burpee

 

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Beatrix Potter. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Privately Printed. [1901]

 Presentation copy “For Stephanie from Cousin B! Christmas, 1901.”

 

One of 250 copies printed by Strangeways at the author’s expense.

 

 

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Beatrix Potter. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. February, 1902. Second Privately Printed Edition.

 

 

200 copies. This was Rupert Potter’s copy.

 

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Beatrix Potter. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. London: Frederick Warne & Co., [1902].

First Commercial Edition.

After Miss Potter had printed Peter at her own expense, she took courage and boldly sent a copy of the little book to Warne, since that firm had written a pleasant letter in rejecting her manuscript. They examined the little book, decided to publish it—and have been publishing it ever since.

Gift of H. Bacon Collamore.

 

RBD BP 2 [1902] c. 1