“Love from your friend Peter Rabbit:” Beatrix Potter’s Miniature Letters to Jack Ripley Acquired by the Cotsen

CUMBRIA, UK – MAY 30TH 2016: Beatrix Potters writing desk at Hill Top – a 17th Century House once home to childrens author Beatrix Potter, taken on 30th May 2016.

Over the years Beatrix Potter composed picture letters to children she knew.  Noel Moore, the eldest son of her friend and last governess Annie Carter Moore, was especially lucky.  Miss Potter sent him a version of what became The Tale of Peter Rabbit. ne of Noel’s little brother Eric was the recipient of a draft of The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher and Molly Gaddum was sent another one.   Those two picture letters of Jeremy Fisher are among the greatest treasures of Cotsen’s Beatrix Potter collection.

Between nineteen naughts and the early 1920s, Miss Potter wrote teeny-tiny unillustrated letters from her characters in the little books to her young fans.  These miniature manuscripts do not come on the market very often and Mr. Cotsen wasn’t able to acquire any examples while building the Potter collection. Judy Taylor, the Potter scholar, succeeded in tracking down a quite a number, which she published in Letters to Children from Beatrix Potter (1992).    But another Potter devotee, the late Mary K. Young, purchased in the 1990s the four to Master Jack Ripley, of Gloucestershire, whose father was a breeder and trainer of Argentine polo ponies.  She loaned them to the Beatrix Potter exhibition at the Grolier Club in 2000.   It came as something of a surprise that he highlights of Mary Young’s collection were to be auctioned during the pandemic by Doyle’s in New York City.  The sale was not especially well-publicized, but with a derring do, and enthusiastic support from the Friends of the Princeton University Library and John Logan, the English Literature bibliographer, and a canny agent to obtain the letters for Cotsen.

Here they are, as photographed in Judy Taylor’s book.  The letters are matted and framed and my poor cell-phone camera simply wasn’t up to the challenge.   At least these reproductions have transcripts of all the letters, which makes it easier to make out the messages from Peter Rabbit, Josephine Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and Mr McGregor.

With a second heartfelt thanks to the Friends and to John Logan for making this fabulous acquisition possible.

 

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