“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.


Squirrels on Rafts by Beatrix Potter and Ernest Griset–A Coincedence?

A fair bit is known about the creation of Beatrix Potter’s tale of an impudent squirrel who lost his tail, thanks to Leslie Linder’s History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter.  Much less is known about the work of other artists who may have influenced her.   Her style did change over the years and she drew squirrels rather differently in the  1890s, when she was an unknown amateur artist carving out a niche for herself and the early 1900s when she achieved success with the little books.  Compare the red squirrel capering on the cover of Squirrel Nutkin and the study below in the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

The study of the two squirrels, with its greater emphasis on naturalistic detail, points to work of the famous Victorian artist, Ernest Griset (1844-1907). Celebrated in the 1860s and 1870s for his anthropomorphized grotesques of creatures, Griset drew countless studies of animals and birds at the London Zoo.    He was obliged to pour out illustrations for the magazines and for heavily illustrated books for the Christmas market to support a large family.  His wood engraver, the Dalziel firm, sold for a pittance the beautiful drawings.

Could his illustration of two squirrels navigating the waters on little rafts of bark in The Favorite Album of Fun and Fancy (1880) have given Potter the idea for the convey of squirrels going to Old Mister Brown’s island?

“Look Before You Leap,” in Favorite Album of Fun and Fancy (London: Cassell, Petter, Galpin, ca. 1880), p. 128 (Cotsen 1950).


Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (London: F. Warne & Co., 1902), p. 17 (Cotsen 4242).

Or is it a coincidence?  Two minds independently hitting on the same idea?  Is it my imagination or are there other parallels between Griset’s squirrels and Potter’s Nutkin?  It’s an idea worth pursuing…

“The Squirrels and the Frost King’s Cooks,” in Favorite Album of Fun and Fancy, p. 72 (Cotsen 1950).