London: Frederick Warne and Co., 1902. Item #04647
A Remarkably Fine Copy of the First Trade Edition of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”
The First Edition with Thirty Colored Plates
POTTER, Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. London: Frederick Warne and Co., [n.d., 1902].
First Warne 'Trade' Edition, first, second, or third printing* (October-December 1902), all identical, and following all points in Quinby, and with "wept" on line 2 of page 51.
Twelvemo (5 7/16 x 4 1/8 inches; 139 x 106 mm.). 97,  pp. Color frontispiece and thirty color plates (included in pagination). Black and white vignette on title-page.
Original dark brown boards lettered in white on front cover and spine. Color pictorial label (being a repetition of the color illustration on p. 26) on front cover within a rectangular blind panel outlined in blind. Gray leaf-patterned endpapers (later changed to pictorial). The tiniest bit of foxing along fore edges of free endpapers. Light printer's ink stain to (blank) verso of page ninety-three.
Quite simply one of the best copies we have seen in many years, with virtually no wear whatsoever to the binding which is as clean and fresh as the day it was published. Housed in a felt-lined full tan morocco clamshell case, spine with five raised bands, decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt in compartments.
“There are no recognizable differences between the first three printings, except that green boards were introduced after the first printing” (Linder).
*This is the first commercially published printing, issued in October 1902 in an edition of 8,000 copies. This is known as the First Trade Edition, and was bound in either brown or gray boards with a color illustration of Peter in his light blue jacket mounted to the front board with white lettering above and below and to the spine. A further 12,000 copies were printed in November, and 8,220 copies in December 1902. These three printings are identical internally. The only variation that exists is that some copies of the second and third printings were issued in green boards.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit was the first of the thirteen early "Peter Rabbit" Series which were published between 1902 and 1918.
The Story of Peter Rabbit was originally conceived by Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) whilst on holiday with her family at Eastwood, Dunkeld, Scotland. Through the 1890s, Beatrix Potter sent illustrated story letters to the children of her former governess, Annie Moore. On September 4th, 1893 she wrote a 'picture letter' and sent it to Moore's eldest son Noël. This five year old boy was the recipient of what has become one of the most famous letters ever written. "Sep[tember] 4th, 93. My dear Noel, I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy Cottontail, and Peter…"" (Judy Taylor. Beatrix Potter's Letters, pp. 19-27).
The Tale of Peter Rabbit was to become one of the preeminent children's books of the twentieth century, and firmly established Beatrix Potter as a popular author and illustrator. In 1900, Annie Moore, realizing the commercial potential of Potter's stories, suggested they be made into books. Potter embraced the suggestion, and, borrowing her complete correspondence (which had been carefully preserved by the Moore children), selected the letter written on 4 September 1893 to five-year-old Noel that featured a tale about a rabbit named Peter. Potter biographer Linda Lear explains: "The original letter was too short to make a proper book so [Potter] added some text and made new black-and-white illustrations... and made it more suspenseful. These changes slowed the narrative down, added intrigue, and gave a greater sense of the passage of time. Then she copied it out into a stiff-covered exercise book, and painted a colored frontispiece showing Mrs. Rabbit dosing Peter with camomile tea".
Potter had originally titled the book The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor's Garden and sent it to several publishers, but her manuscript was rejected by all, including Frederick Warne & Co., who nearly a decade earlier had shown some interest in her artwork. Some publishers wanted a shorter book, others a longer one. But most wanted colored illustrations which by 1900 were both popular and affordable. These rejections were extremely frustrating to Potter, who knew exactly how her book should look and how much it should cost - she had adopted the format and style of Helen Bannerman's Little Black Sambo (1899). She decided to publish the book herself, and on 16 December 1901 the first 250 copies of her privately printed The Tale of Peter Rabbit were "ready for distribution to family and friends". This little book immediately proved to be a huge success amongst her friends, family and and others (including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and within just a few weeks she had requested a second impression (200 copies, February 1902) to be produced. At the same time Frederick Warne and Co. had reconsidered their position on publishing the work, and a deal was made with Potter to produce the first trade edition with colored plates throughout. In October of 1902 The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published by Warne with thirty illustrations in the three-color process printed by Edmund Evans. Its success was immense. So familiar did her animal characters become among children that Miss Potter was told how ‘a small boy in church once inquired audibly whether the apostle was Peter Rabbit’ (Linder, p. 92).
Linder, p. 421; Quinby 2; V & A 1628.