Rackham in the PPL

We have a modest assemblage of books illustrated by Arthur Rackham, numbering approximately fifty items, as well as one original Rackham drawing:

The books have come by gift from several donors over the years, and a very few by acquisition. There is a small fund to acquire more, but given the gratifying interest in Rackham by collectors, we cannot yet be very competitive in the market, where significant editions run into to the thousands of dollars or more.

The editions discussed here are identified by their page numbers in the most definitive bibliography of Rackham’s works completed to date—by Richard Riall, published in 1994, which is a rather scarce item in its own right.

When I discovered we did not have a copy, I acquired it immediately. An individual collector can choose to ignore the standard bibliographies of his subject and enjoy a private voyage of discovery into terra incognita. An institution, however, must work to a plan, and the only maps available for book collecting are good bibliographies.

The PPL only recently (2000) began collecting Rackham per se, at the instance of a gift of about 30 titles by former trustee Martha Sherman. An amateur collector who had been introduced to the artist’s work as a child in the 1920s by an aunt, Mrs. Sherman subsequently read works illustrated by Rackham to her own children. Among the best of these are the London, 1933 trade edition of Goblin Market (bound in pictorial paper wrappers), of which we now have two copies (Riall 179); the 1921 American edition of Milton’s Comus (Riall 143); the 1920 American edition of Hansel & Gretel (Riall 139); the 1907 London trade edition of The Ingoldsby Legends (Riall 83); the 1926 trade edition (grey-black cloth binding variant) of The Tempest (Riall 161); and the 1910 American trade edition (blue cloth variant) of The Rhinegold & the Valkyrie (Riall 103).

These books fit well within our larger collection of children’s literature—over 2,000 titles, ranging in date from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, given to the Library by Edith Wetmore in 1956. Wetmore was a discriminating and well-heeled collector, and most of our high-spot children’s books came from her—like our copy of the first edition, first issue of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter, Rackham’s contemporary. Some of Mrs. Wetmore’s copies of Rackham titles are quite fine. For example, we have the “deluxe” limited, signed editions of Irish Fairy Tales (1920; Riall 138) and The King of the Golden River(1932; Riall 176), as well as the limited, numbered edition (number 266 of 1100) of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907; Riall 77).

The way forward for our Rackham collecting is clear enough—there are many quite affordable editions which we lack. We plan to add to the collection both by inviting donors to give copies of Rackham’s books to the library, as well as monetary support for the collection’s dedicated acquisition fund.
In fact, just yesterday (as of this writing), one of Mrs. Sherman’s friends gave us a servicable copy of a Rackham title we did not own—the London “trade” edition of Cinderella, retold by C. S. Evans (1919, Riall 134).
Initially we will simply try to acquire all titles in their earliest and best editions obtainable, and then trade up as we go. As I mentioned above, we were able to secure an original drawing as a centerpiece, and hopefully in years to come we can acquire more—but the published books must be our focus now.

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