Lloyd E. Cotsen (1929-2017): A Gift in His Memory from the Friends of the Princeton University Library

Lloyd E. Cotsen slipped away on May 8th after eighty-eight years of  life lived to the fullest–digging for antiquities, selling soap in the package he designed, and flying around the world on business, which also included tracking down Japanese ikebana baskets, folk art and textiles for the corporation’s art collection.  Then there was the parallel project of amassing of illustrated children’s books from around the world and through time, original artwork, prints, educational toys, and all kinds of other wonderful and surprising things that became the research collection of the Cotsen Children’s Library in Firestone.  Mr. Cotsen’s energy was as legendary as his generosity–not just with money, but with time and most importantly, of himself.

To honor him  as one of the Princeton University Library’s greatest donors, the Friends  have presented to the Cotsen Children’s Library with a magnificent pen-and-ink drawing  by one of Mr. Cotsen’s favorite illustrators, Charles Robinson (1870-1937).

Charles was the son of an artist and his two brothers Thomas Heath and William Heath Robinson were also gifted artists in their own right. Charles illustrated many children’s books, including Aesop’s fables, Mother Goose, the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.  Robinson’s books are well represented in the Cotsen collection along with three picture letters to the daughter of a fellow artist and the finished artwork for two books, Songs of Love and Praise (1907) and The Reign of King Oberon.(1902).


The large drawing the Friends have presented to Cotsen  is signed “Charles Robinson 1916” and mounted on board. It was in a private collection for half a century before being purchased by the Friends.  It is a wonderful example of Robinson’s characteristic attention to layout, framing, and lettering.  Mr. Cotsen was always attracted to pictures of children reading and I’m sure he would have been enchanted by this one of a pretty girl with light shoulder-length hair seated on a divan who has dropped a nursery rhyme picture book on the floor.

Detail of the open book at the girl’s feet.

She seems to be daydreaming and the characters that populate in her mind are projected on the wall behind her.

Detail showing the head of a strange beast with horns concealed in the foliage covering the walls of the castle, and the fair lady watching the progress of the handsome young man on horseback.

For some reason, Robinson decided to redraw the girl’s head on a different paper stock, which was carefully cut out, and pasted over the original one.

The sixty-four dollar question is, was this image ever published?  Was it a design for an annual cover?  A poster?  Where did it appear? Some lucky person will have the fun of discovering more about the creation of this  lovely tribute to children who love stories.

A heartfelt thank you to the Friends for such a thoughtful, appropriate tribute to our founder, whose spirit will always be a source of inspiration and creativity to us at Cotsen.

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