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.
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).
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: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:
Two of the other dolls might have served as models for another doll-centric collaboration between Cradock and Appleton, Peggy and Joan.One more doll is an almost complete match for “Mrs. Smith” featured in the story Where the Dolls Lived:
The rest of the dolls, though unique and interesting in their own right, don’t seem to resemble dolls in Appleton’s illustrations:
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).
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):
Interestingly, however, “Edward Bear” actually shows up a few pages earlier in Shepard’s illustration for a different poem “Halfway Down”:
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:
Toys and Books from a Czech Fairy Tale: Dlouhý, Siroký a Bystrozraký (High, Wide, and Cleareyed)
To learn more about the NYPL collection of “Pooh and his friends” and the history of the dolls check out these links too: