Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Little Fun, Some Nonsense and a Mystery

Little mysteries keep my job in the rare book world interesting.  Although, in many cases, these mysteries remain unsolved.

Recently, I've been in contact with a biographer/bibliographer who is working on the history of Florence Harrison, a children's book author  and illustrator from the early 20th Century.  There is scant information about her even though she was relatively popular in her day and her books and artwork are highly sought after in today's rare book market.

My correspondence with the biographer began nearly a year ago when she contacted me asking for a scan of a book cover that features artwork which resembles Harrison's.  Somehow, I lost her contact information and never sent the scan.

A few days ago she contacted me again about a different book, but I remembered her previous request and asked if she would still like the scans.

"Yes, please," she said.

Now, here is the mystery.

The book in question is titled, Fun and Nonsense, which was written and illustrated by Willard Bonte.  However, the cover artwork is clearly not  Bonte's hand, but resembles Florence Harrison's.  At the time, copyright laws were much different than they are today and publishers used artwork willy-nilly without permissions.  So, it was not uncommon for artwork to be "recycled."

Cover of Fun and Nonsense by Willard Bonte.  Boston: H M Caldwell, (1904)

However, Fun and Nonsense was published in 1904 but the cover artwork would not appear in Harrison's work until 1907 in Rhyme of a Run.  In fact, Harrison's first published work, Rhymes and Reason is generally agreed to have been published in 1905 (per British Library).

Cover of Rhyme of a Run by Florence Harrison. London: Blackie & Son, [1907].

To make this mystery even more interesting,  the cover art for Fun and Nonsense is composed differently than it would appear in Rhyme of a Run.

Illustration from Rhyme of a Run

My answer is only speculative, but I assume that Fun and Nonsense, while copyrighted 1904, was probably published later--Caldwell was inconsistent about denoting editions or listing later dates.  Furthermore, Caldwell published the American edition of Rhyme of a Run, so it stands to reason that they would have had access to Harrison's artwork in some way (although the American edition was most likely produced in Great Britain).  There are small differences between the two, but certainly extraordinarily similar.  Another possibility that I don't like to think about, is that Harrison copied the artwork--this seems unlikely as she clearly had her own wonderful imagination.

The question still remains--Why choose artwork from a different illustrator for the cover of a book by a different author and illustrator?

Fore comparison sake, here is an example of Bonte's artwork from Fun and Nonsense.

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