The trunk (if you look just under the lid, you can tell that the trunk was once a bright green), (Cotsen 61180)
This unassuming canvas trunk holds the inspiration for some of the early 20th century’s most recognizable children’s book illustrations. It belonged to Honor C. Appleton (1879 – 1951), whose delicate watercolors are perhaps best known for their appearances as full color plates in the work of her long-time collaborators.
A photograph of Honor C. Appleton in round frame, ca. 1912-1914 (Cotsen 61179)
Appleton maintained long working relationships with two prolific authors, Mrs. H. C. Cradock (best known for her stories about a young girl named Josephine and her imaginative adventures with her dolls) and F. H. Lee (best known for the series “Children’s Bookshelf,” adaptations of classic literature for young readers).
Honor C. Appleton’s initials at the top of the trunk; the C stands for Charlotte, just in case you were wondering. . .
The trunk allows us to gain special insight into the Appleton’s work with Mrs. Cradock. How can a trunk do that you wonder? Well, it’s what’s inside that counts:
When first purchased for Cotsen, along with other items from the Appleton estate, Appleton’s trunk was full of dolls (don’t worry, they have long since been rehoused). Totaling thirteen dolls (not all shown above, but all included in images following), they come in a variety of sizes and materials. We do not, unfortunately, know much about the origin or manufacture of the dolls, though many seem homemade.
If you are familiar with Appleton’s illustrations for Cradock Josephine books, it might be immediately apparent to you why these dolls are so relevant to her artwork. But if you’re not (and don’t worry, I wasn’t either until quite recently), many of the dolls found in Appleton’s trunk seem to have served as models for characters in her illustrations.
For example, the four dolls below make recurring appearances in the Josephine books:
Four of Josephine’s dolls, from left to right: Margaret, Christabel, Quacky Jack, and one of the “Korean Dolls.”
Frontispiece to Josephine and Her Dolls (London: Blackie and Son Ltd., 1916), the first title in the Josephine series. (Cotsen 33806)
Appleton’s proof and notes for page 16 of Josephine Goes Traveling (Cotsen 34319)
Plate , Josephine Keeps School (London: Blackie and Son, [1930s]) (Cotsen 23698)
As you can tell, the dolls’ appearances in Appleton’s illustrations are not identical to the real dolls she used as models. Christabel, for example, (featured towards the back of the parade illustrated above), is missing her right arm and has black hair in the stories. The Margaret doll has a pink dress while her counterpart in the illustrations has a white dress (I was terrified to discover that both versions lose their wigs quite easily). But I think the similarities, for some of the dolls at least, are obvious.
Take the roguish Quacky Jack:
Though time has not been kind to Josephine’s mischievous plaything, this real stuffed duck bears an undeniable likeness to his character in the books:
Vignette, page 35, Josephine goes Traveling (London: Blackie and Son, 1940), Quacky’s better days. . . (Cotsen 23694)
Two of the other dolls might have served as models for another doll-centric collaboration between Cradock and Appleton, Peggy and Joan.
2 models for dolls found in Peggy and Joan
Plate , The two horses in this illustration bear a resemblance to the stuffed horse above. London: Blackie and Son Limited: [ca. 1920] (Cotsen 7332)
Plate , The doll above can clearly be seen sitting in the bottom left of this illustration. (Cotsen 7223)
One more doll is an almost complete match for “Mrs. Smith” featured in the story Where the Dolls Lived
Mrs. Smith next to plate 10 of Where the Dolls Lived. (Cotsen 23702)
The rest of the dolls, though unique and interesting in their own right, don’t seem to resemble dolls in Appleton’s illustrations:
As you can tell, some dolls are in far better shape than others. The bottom left of the image shows what remains of a doll’s head and her dress.
Though using play things as inspiration for children’s literature might be par for the course, few authors and illustrators create whole worlds and series based on actual toys. It is significant then, that Appleton’s approach of using doll models actually predates her more well known contemporaries: A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard.
Milne, of course, is best known for his stories centered around a certain bear named Winnie-the-Pooh, and Shepard was Milne’s original illustrator (as well as the original illustrator for Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows). What you may not know, however, is that most of Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh characters are modeled after actual toys as well:
The shot above is provided by the New York Public Library. In their Children’s Center in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Pooh and his friends remain on display. The dolls were originally bought for Milne’s son Christopher Robin Milne, the real life inspiration for Christopher Robin in the Pooh series of course), starting with the gift of “Edward Bear” from a Harrod’s department store on August 21st, 1921, Christopher Robin’s first birthday.
Winnie-the-Pooh first appears by name in the London newspaper the Evening Post as the main character in Milne’s short story “The Wrong Sort of Bees” published on December 24th, 1925. Later, the bear appears in the first title in the Pooh series, the eponymous Winnie-the-Pooh (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1926).
Pages -1, Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh make their début together in the opening lines of Winnie-the-Pooh. (Cotsen 3014)
Pages 4-5, the clever formatting and Shepard’s endearing illustrations helped make the Pooh series an instant classic (Cotsen 3014)
But “Edward Bear,” the earlier incarnation of Pooh who shares the name with his model counterpart from Harrods, shows up in text a few years earlier in Milne’s best-selling collection of poetry: When We Were Very Young (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1924), in the poem “Teddy Bear” (Teddy is a nickname for both Edward and Theodore):
Pages 86-87 from the poem “Teddy Bear” (Cotsen 10411)
Interestingly, however, “Edward Bear” actually shows up a few pages earlier in Shepard’s illustration for a different poem “Halfway Down”:
Pages 80-81, “Edward Bear” can be seen at the top of the stairs; while another very familiar boy sits in the middle. (Cotsen 10411)
So even though Winnie-the-Pooh arguably first appeared in print as early as 1924, the process of building an imaginative world based around real dolls had already appeared eight years earlier in Cradock and Appleton’s Josephine and Her Dolls (1916). Our collection of Appleton’s dolls exists as the artifact for what might be the first transformative process of using children’s dolls as direct inspiration for a series of children’s fiction. Though sentient dolls have played rolls in children’s fiction since the beginning, Appleton and Cradock created a popular series that chronicled the adventures of Josephine and her dolls across numerous years and titles. At least in America, Appleton, Cradock, Josephine and her dolls have not enjoyed the same kind of sustained familiarity and adoration as Shepard, Milne, Christopher Robin, Pooh and friends.
In addition to Appleton’s dolls and suitcase (61180), her portrait (61179 above), the artists’ proof from Josephine Goes Travelling (34319 above), a run of the Josephine books and the “Children’s Series,” Cotsen is home to an Appleton sketch book (61177), and more of her finished artwork and artists’ proofs (61181, 61182, 61183, 5053062, 5641042, and 6527185).
If you are interested in more dolls in the Cotsen collection, check out this blog post as well:
To learn more about the NYPL collection of “Pooh and his friends” and the history of the dolls check out these links too: