Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tale of Peter Rabbit-First American Piracy-- Part 1

One of the most common errors in advertising and selling books published by Henry Altemus involves its Peter Rabbit piracy. Most people are aware that the first American piracy of The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published by Henry Altemus Company in 1904. Where most sellers go wrong is that they do not know how to distinguish early from later formats of this title. In addition, they are fooled by seeing that on the title page all of the editions say "copyright 1904". (We are just talking about the 16 mo. editions here. The larger sized books are clearly later copies).

A very well known children's book dealer who specializes in high price items has this ad:

(Summarized) Peter Rabbit, Henry Altemus Company 1904. pale green.... Dust wrapper. Dust wrapper lists 6 titles including Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, Mother Goose Nursery Tales, ... A very early if not first edition in this format. $750.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was one of six books introduced by Altemus in its Wee Books for Wee Folks Series in 1904. The first editions were 5.5 x 4.25, had a decorative pattern with the title on the left of the cover, and a book appropriate multi colored illustration within an oval on the right side of the book. This is the true first edition.

Later in 1904-1905 the familiar line drawn book appropriate pictures on a green cover were noted. This was the first format of the second edition. By 1908-1912 the second format of the second edition had a beige/light green cover but the picture was the same the green cover. The third format of the second edition has the same picture on the cover but is now bluish with an orange spine.

The Third format will be discussed tomorrow.

There was one other key change beside the cover colors during the years of the second format. In 1916 the names of two of the titles were changed. Nursery Tales and Nursery Rhymes became Mother Goose Nursery tales and mother goose Nursery Rhymes.

As you can see here, this book with the Mother Goose titles must be from 1916 or later.

Now back to our ABAA/ respected book dealer. The advertised book cannot be older than 1916 based on the titles noted on the book. The book is clearly a second edition, second format book. It is not the first, not an early edition, not the first in that format. And certainly in my opinion the price is somewhere beyond way too much. But, of course, that is only my opinion.

The six books of the Wee Books Series published first in 1904 are.
1. Nursery Tales
2. Nursery Rhymes
3. Tale of Peter Rabbit
4. Foolish Fox
5. Three Three Pigs
6. Robber Kitten

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