The Tale of Peter Rabbit
The book about a naughty rabbit named Peter is exceptional for many reasons. It’s the first book written by relatively unknown author, which started a successful series of books and many products (toys, stickers, collectible figurines, clocks, …) with hundreds of millions sold items.
The Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit is not only a breakthrough for her, but also a cornerstone for whole new direction of picture books publishing. In 19th century there was pretty clear distinction between writers and illustrators. After 1902, when The Tale of Peter Rabbit was first published, new generation of picture books, where author of text and pictures is the same person became very acceptable and welcomed standard. I will not go into details, but if we only look from the production point of view, we have to deal with one artist, not two (always procrastinating Richard ‘Dicky’ Doyle comes first in mind, fight between Baum and Denslow about Wizard of Oz close second), editor has much less work at coordination, copyrights and promotion are easier to manage, etc.
Helen Beatrix Potter was talented artist and scientist with great private education. All these resulted in very versatile works among which Peter Rabbit has a very special place. It started as an illustrated letter to a sick kid (child of her ex governess). Potter, encouraged by selling few illustrations before, tried expanded a story into a picture book, but couldn’t find a publisher. So she self-published it for friends and family only in 1901. It was black and white edition with 250 copies. When editors at Frederick Warne & Co saw the booklet, decided to publish it, despite the fact they already rejected Potter’s proposition before.
First edition of The Tale of Pater Rabbit in 1902 was immediate bestseller and Beatrix potter used the same characters in few more picture books. She wrote 26 of them altogether before she died at the age of 77. Next set of illustrations comes from her first an the most popular book, sold in more than 40 millions of copies. Welcome to the world of Peter Rabbit and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail!
Peter Rabbit wasn’t only one of the most popular books for kids ever, he became first copyrighted character too. Beatrix Potter used him in five books, he was adapted for other media, and his popularity is actually still on the rise. The original publisher Frederick Warne & Co decided to offer new adventures of Peter Rabbit, written by new author more than hundred years after the first edition was published. They choose Emma Thompson, Academy Award winning actress and screenwriter for three additional books.
Authors die, but their best characters are immortal.