Special Collections & Fairy Tales


The Sleeping Beauty (1920) illustrated by Arthur Rackham

Throughout my time in the University of Arizona’s Special Collections archives (six months to be exact), I have taken great delight with my encounters with fairy tales, be it intentional or unintentional. Coming from my background in children’s literature studies with the focus on fairy tale traditions, I always keep an eye out for related material, especially when they pop up in the least likely of places when I’m not necessarily searching. One of my favorite discoveries was when I was searching for items for my November showcase featuring military-service and war related material in honor of Veterans Day. In an archival box labeled “WWI and WWII Media”, amongst the Life Magazines with images of war nurses, soldiers, and President Johnson, I discovered beautiful color-reproductions of illustrations featuring classic fairy tale hero(ione)s by the artist Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935). Smith was an American female illustrator of the Golden Age of Illustration who contributed works to books and magazines, such as Harper’sLadies Home Journal, and Good House Keeping. Smith was also one of the many artists I had researched only a year earlier for my undergraduate honor’s thesis, so needless to say, I was quite excited with this very unexpected find of the fairy tale protagonists Goldilocks, Cinderella, and Jack .


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Stories from Hans Andersen (1925) illustrated by Edmund Dulac

For my February showcase I decided to highlight the Golden Age of Illustration by displaying 20th century books of fairy tales with illustrations by some of the most notable artists of this era. The golden Age of Illustration was a period of remarkable distinction in book illustration productions between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This was a result of the advances in technology that permitted detailed and inexpensive reproductions of art that ultimately generated a high public demand for this beautiful new art form. Illustrated fairy tale books became one of the most popular genres, garnering the statues of the ultimate “Gift Book”. Among the leading artists of the Golden Age were Arthur Rackham (1867-1939), Edmund Dulac (1882-1953), and Kay Nielsen (1886-1957).

Among some of my sought-after finds was a 1909 edition of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm illustrated by Rackham, a 1911 edition of Stories from Hans Andersen illustrated by Dulac, and a 1925 edition of Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Nielsen. I also came upon the original de Luxe 1919 and 1920 editions of Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty illustrated by Arthur Rackham (I say original because The Folio Society recently produced facsimiles of these works that I am very familiar with), in which Rackham illustrated the classic fairy tales in silhouette. And to my great delight I discovered that The Sleeping Beauty edition is signed by Arthur Rackham on the colophon, No. 31/625. Although I didn’t have space for all of the beautiful books, all three of the artists were represented in the final showcase piece.


Golden Age of Illustration Showcase


Alice in the Archives


Marie Laurencin, 1930, Alice in Wonderland

Since its initial publication in 1865 with the beloved original illustrations by John Tenniel, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired countless artists to reimagine the heroine and the enchanting world of wonderland from Arthur Rackham (1907) to Salvador Dalí (1969). In 1930 French artist Marie Laurencin (1883-1956) created her own interpretation of Alice and her world, with 6 original lithographs published by The Black Sun Press, Paris. Upon discovering this gem in the University of Arizona Special Collections archives, I was entranced by the beauty and whimsy of Laurencin’s work, and being a passionate scholar of the Alice stories, I was curious to learn more about this artist.


Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Black Swan Press

Marie Laurencin (1883-1956) was born in Paris in 1883 and by 18 she was studying porcelain painting in Sèvres, after which she studied art at the Académie Humbert with a focus in oil painting. At the time of publication for Arthur Rackham’s illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1907, Laurencin was hosting her first solo exhibition where she met Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). She became an important figure in the Parisian avant-garde as a member of the Cubists associated with the Section d’Or. Writer Gertrude Stein was an important patron of avant-garde artists at this time and was one of the first buyers of Laurencin’s work. In 1924 Laurencin designed the stage set for the Ballets Russes and later the Comédie Française in 1928. She was also painting portraits of Parisian celebrities, including Coco Chanel.


By the 1920s Marie Larencin began to explore feminine themes in her work, incorporating willowy, ethereal female figures with a palette of soft pastel colors. This combination of delicate and celestial evokes a world of enchantment, and we can see this motif transpire in her illustrations of Alice and her wonderland, such as the heroine falling delicately down the rabbit hole, spotting a wisp of the white rabbit at a distance, having a nonsensical conversation with the queen, and sitting by her sister’s side on the riverbank. We can appreciate the whimsy and delicacy of Laurencin’s images as if existing in a dream.


Alice and the White Rabbit, 1930


Alice and the Queen of Hearts

According to the colophon, this Edition is limited strictly to 420 numbered copies for the United States and 370 numbered copies for Europe. The UA’s edition is number 138 of the European’s 370 copies. As someone who has researched the rich history of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, with its great cultural influences, this was truly a divine find, for it not only illuminates the beauty of story and imagination, but also serves as a reminder that there will always be something new to discover when it comes to falling down the endless rabbit hole of Carroll’s Alice stories.


Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Marie Laurencin, 1930.


Additional sources:





A Treasure of the Hogarth Press in the Archives


Poems by T.S. Eliot, 1919. Original hand-painted wallpaper wrappers.

In 1915, Virginia and Leonard Woolf decided to purchase a printing press to occupy their time, distract Virginia from illness, and allow her and her husband to publish their own work directly without risking comments from editors. They began with a handpress, then moved on to a treadle-operated press, and eventually to commercial printers. What was initially intended to be a recreational hobby ultimately blossomed into a business that would leave its mark on the history of printing. In a letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davis, Virginia writes:


“Dearest Margaret […] You must keep us all at bay, until you are prepared to fling yourself into the most absorbing of all pursuits. After 2 hours work at the press, Leonard heaved a terrific sigh and said ‘I wish to God we’d never bought the cursed thing!’ To my relief, though not surprise, he added ‘Because I shall never do anything else.’ You can’t think how exciting, soothing, ennobling and satisfying it is. And so far we’ve only the dullest and most difficult part – setting up a notice, which you will receive one day.”

After doing my own research of the Hogarth Press in between classes and work (and out of great curiosity) I decided to explore the archives to see what treasures I could find. One of my favorite finds: T.S. Eliot’s Poems (1919), the fourth hand set printed volume by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.


T.S. Eliot’s poem “Sweeny Among the Nightingale” from Poems (1919).


As J.H. Willis writes in Leonard and Virginia Woolf as Publishers: “They began to set the poems on January 22 and finished printing on March 19, 1919. Leonard Woolf had purchased 8s.6d. worth of Greek type needed for the epigraph to ‘Sweeny’ and two words in ‘Mr. Eliot’s Service.’ Eliot, when he saw the first page proofs, thought they were admirable, and Virginia believed the finished product was ‘our best work so far by a long way, owing to the quality of the ink.’” They printed 250 copies, of which 180 sold immediately, and were sold out within a year.







Right image: Title page for T.S. Eliot’s Poems (1919) printed on white paper and black ink. Note the “Printed & Published by L. & V. Woolf at The Hogarth Press, Hogarth House, Richmond, 1919” at the bottom.





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Left image: V. Sackville-West’s The Dark Island (1934). The wolf-head logo of the Hogarth Press printed in the center was designed by Vanessa Bell, Virginia’s sister.









Press offices in 1928 as remembered and sketched by Richard Kennedy, an office boy at the time. From A Boy at Hogarth Press by R. Kennedy (1972).


Sources: Leonard and Virginia as Publishers: The Hogarth Press 1917-41 by J.H. Willis, Jr. The University Press of Virginia, 1992.

A Showcase for Mary Shelley


Portrait of Mary Shelley by artist Richard Rothwell, 1840

2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary W. Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818). Throughout this bicentennial year Shelley and her creation have been a popular topic, with the release of The New Annotated Frankenstein with an introduction by award-winning director Guillermo del Toro, and the exhibition Its Alive! Frankenstein at 200 on display at the Morgan Library and Museum, to name just a few examples. Personally, Shelley’s novel has been a favorite of mine for its Russian-doll-like structure of stories within a story, from the monster telling his creator his story, to Dr. Frankenstein telling his story to the arctic seafarer Robert Walton, who ultimately writes it all down to send to his sister. And of course, there is the story of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley herself: her elopement with her soon-to-be-husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, the scandal that derived from it, the tragedy of the deaths of her three young children, and the tragedy of Percy’s death in a boating accident in 1822. Throughout her trials and sufferings Mary turned to words for solace. For my October showcase I wanted to dive deep into the archives for materials related to Mary W. Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their creations. Here were some of my discoveries:



Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translation and Fragments (1840) by Percy Bysshe Shelley and edited by Mary W. Shelley.







Three volume set of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man c.1826. Note below the “By the Author of Frankenstein” and a previous owner’s remedy of including the female author’s name.





Below: History of Six Weeks’ Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland by Percy Byshee Shelley c1817. This was my first time coming across a book with uncut pages and I was surprised to see this was throughout the entire volume.








The Choice: A Novel Poem on Shelley’s Death by Mary Shelley c.1876. Privately printed and one of few copies on hand made paper with a portrait of Percy, which according to the finding aid is quite scarce.






The second volume of an 1833 edition of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary W. Shelley.








A 1918 members-only printing of Letters of Mary W. Shelley (Mostly Unpublished) by the Boston Bibliophile Society.




And at last, the final result, which includes Shelley’s letters, the 1833 edition of Frankenstein, and illustration plate by the artist Barry Moser that was included in a special edition printing of the 1818 text:


Needless to say it was a difficult decision of what would make it into the showcase and what story I wanted to create with it. I finally decided to highlight Shelley’s revised 1831 text and how she returned to the story after enduring the loss of Percy and her three children. So not only did she initially pen the tale in 1818 for solace, but she went back and revised it to reflect her anguish during the time-span in between. What started as a prompt by Lord Byron to write a “ghost story”, and thus inspired by a dream, Mary W. Shelley’s story would go on to gift imaginative recreations over the next two centuries.




Archives, Bean Seeds, and a Sleeping Princess

Kinuko Craf SleepingBeauty_2001

Sleeping Beauty illustration by Japanese artist Kinuko Y. Craft  http://www.kycraft.com/

Having just earned my BA this past May, the 2018-2019 academic year marks my first as a Graduate Assistant at Special Collections and as a graduate student. I spent the last year and a half researching for my honors thesis which focused on the importance of stories, the ways they are told, and how they are preserved. As an example I analyzed fairy tales for their rich history in oral, literary, and illustration traditions, and for their great ability to remain present in our current day.

Gentry Blog p_1My interest in archival and special collections work derives from my passion for stories and how materials of historical significance are being preserved for future generations. For my first processing project I am organizing the papers of Howard Scott Gentry (1903-1993), botanist, ethnographer, zoologist, and most well-known for his expertise on the agave plant. Through my sorting process I am beholding the work of a devoted expert in his craft. His extensive research on a vast array of plant species and attention to detail exhibits his knowledge and passion for his life’s work. Some favorite discoveries: a packet of bean seeds I found in his file labeled “Phaselus” (aka “Wild Bean”), and his manuscript titled “Jojoba the Sleeping Princess” that he wrote for the 1978 International Conference on Jojoba. In this piece Gentry personifies the jojoba plant as a sleeping princess, and like the fairy tale she needs a suitor to wake her, but instead of a prince, it is the skilled botanist who will bring her to bloom, thereby gifting the suitor with her magic oil. You can imagine my delight of finding these fairy tale-like elements within my first project, reminding me of the importance of my research, and excited for what else I will discover in the archives of Special Collections.

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