Curator’s Choice: Maud and Miska Petersham’s Toy Story Hary Janos and Get-Away

Recently a friend reminded me that when we were little, one of our favorite things to do was  noisily acting out stories from Margery Clark’s The Poppy Seed  Cakes.  Neither of our dress-up chests would have had anything as splendid as the “Old Country” clothes drawn by the Petershams, a husband and wife team of author-illustrators. Nor were our beds were painted with colorful decorations inspired by Hungarian folkloric designs. But the Petershams’ picture book world grounded my early notions of the exotic.

Years later after Mr. Cotsen hired me, I became reacquainted with the Petershams in the most delightful way.  Among the first treasures I saw in the cache at Neutrogena was the archive for their The Ark of Father Noah and Mother Noah (1930), which was my first look up close at a picture book from the rough pencil sketches to the finished artwork.  Eventually fortune  (or truthfully Helen Younger of Aleph-Bet Books) threw a second, even more splendid Petersham maquette Cotsen’s: Get-a-Way and Hary Janos (1933).  The title characters are a worn-out stuffed horse and his friend, a wooden soldier doll “faded and one armed…but still proud and boastful” as befits a Hungarian hussar down on his luck. The inspiration for the soldier is the comic epic poem Az obsitos by Garay Janos.  The Petershams’ picture book is not a string of tall tales the old veteran spins about his service in the Austrian army; its dream-like narrative set in “a far-off land where old toys become new and gay” owes a little something to the more famous Velveteen Rabbit.

Pairing the art in the maquette with the illustration in the published book is a delightful exercise in observing the artists at work.   Here are our heroes, making their weary way to the entrance to the promised land for toys who have outlived their owners’ love somewhat worse for the wear.  If you look closely at the drawing, you can see that the pencil design for the decorative capital S is supposed to fit in the box to the left of “eady boy!”  Notice how much more saturated the blues are in the illustration–tribute to the skill of the William Edwin Rudge firm that printed it.

The art and the printed version for this image shows how the Petershams fleshed out their idea for the gate to the promised land.  The architectural elements seem to be fully formed at this stage, but many of the little figures filling out the composition have yet to be worked out.

Here are Get-a-Way and Hary Janos telling their sad stories to the sympathetic governor.   The drawing is shown here with the printed version tweaked for the cover design.  At the bottom of the drawing, you can make out the note “same as the cover except blue.”  That’s not strictly true because the sun in the upper left hand corner had to go to make room for the hand lettered title.  And expression on Hary’s face is less perplexed.

Fundamental changes were made in certain pictures.  Here is the drawing of Hary Janos, chest puffed out, stepping out with a lady on either arm.  The adoring matryoshka doll in the drawing was changed out for a rather sly-looking woman wearing a pink apron with a zigzagged border over purple dress.  Notice how much the posture of Get-a-way in the upper left hand corner has been altered.  And he’s crying as well. 

A number of full-color illustrations, like this one of Hary Janos taking the lovely brunette in yellow for a spin, had to be sacrificed on the altar of the budget.  “Now only black & white” reads the note at the bottom.   The silhouette of the car became more streamlined in the printed version as well.

And last but not least, here is a series of drawings showing how the initial idea changed as the Petershams worked through the preliminary pencil sketch to a full-color drawing to the final version in the book.  It’s Hary Janos telling tales again…  I love the way the  clothes,  the postures, and expressions of the three figures change.

This post is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Helen B Younger, co-proprietor with her husband Marc, of Aleph-Bet Books.  Thanks to Helen, this glorious maquette and many, many other wonderful things are part of the collection of the Cotsen Children’s Library.   She succumbed last week to FSH, which she valiantly battled all her life and yet refused to let define or slow her down.  One of  her generation’s great dealers in children’s books, Aleph-Bet always had one of the grand double booths at the entrance to the New York Antiquarian Bookfair.  It will be sad indeed to pass through the doors into the bustle and not stop to see Helen and Marc first…

Before Pooh and Piglet: Honor C. Appleton’s Dolls Pose in Mrs. H. C. Cradock’s Josephine Series

trunk

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)

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 initals

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:

DOLLS!

DOLLS!

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

Four of Josephine’s dolls, from left to right: Margaret, Christabel, Quacky Jack, and one of the “Korean Dolls.”

33806frontispiece

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 17 of (Cotsen 34319)

Appleton’s proof and notes for page 16 of Josephine Goes Traveling (Cotsen 34319)

23698plate[44]

Plate [44], 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:

quackyjackforever

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

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

2 models for dolls found in Peggy and Joan

Plate [14], though not identical, the two horses in this illustation bear a resemblance to the stuffed horse above. (Cotsen 7332)

Plate [14], The two horses in this illustration bear a resemblance to the stuffed horse above. London: Blackie and Son Limited: [ca. 1920] (Cotsen 7332)

Plate [53], The doll above can clearly be seen sitting in the bottom left of this illustration. (Cotsen 7223)

Plate [53], 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 with plate 10 of (Cotsen 23702)

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 center of the image shows what remains of a doll's head and her dress.

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:

Children's Center at 42nd St, The New York Public Library. "Kanga, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1925. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e9-1aab-d471-e040-e00a180654d7

Children’s Center at 42nd St, The New York Public Library. “Kanga, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1925. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e9-1aab-d471-e040-e00a180654d7

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).

3014page[3]-1

Pages [3]-1, Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh make their début together in the opening lines of Winnie-the-Pooh. (Cotsen 3014)

3014pages4-5

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):

10411pages86-87

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 a very familiar boy sits on the stairs. (Cotsen 10411)

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.

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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:

http://exhibitions.nypl.org/treasures/items/show/28

http://www.nypl.org/about/locations/schwarzman/childrens-center-42nd-street/pooh