Annotations and illustrations delight collectors

Inscriptions in children's books of the past can be of interest to both scholars and collectors, writes librarian Mia Goodwin.

Sometimes books inscribed by ordinary people can be valuable if the inscription gives insight into the context of the book’s history, production, reception or use.

Take, for example, Monash University Library Rare Books Collection’s copy of Tippoo: A tale of a tiger, by C. W. Cole (1905). This otherwise ordinary children’s book has become extraordinary due to the intriguing annotations inscribed by a previous owner. Mary M. Daubeney gifted the book to Peggy Morton, and carefully annotated each picture with quotations from some of Thomas Moore’s Irish melodies, often to comedic effect. See example above.

This demonstrates historical use of the book itself; how the owner engaged with it, adding textual layers and changing the book to become more playful and distinct for a gift.

Often, an ordinary book becomes especially unique, and therefore ‘rare’, if it was owned by someone famous, particularly if they inscribed their name or wrote a note in the book itself. For example, the Rare Books Collection is fortunate to hold a deluxe second edition of  Stories from Hans Andersen (1912), which includes a touching inscription by Nobel prize-winning author, Sinclair Lewis (1885 – 1951), who gave the book to his parents for Christmas in 1914, as shown below.


Sinclair Lewis was an American author famous for his wit and critique of the American literary establishment. That Lewis gave Andersen’s fairy tales to his parents demonstrates an appreciation of the Danish children’s author, and thus by examining the book in its context, scholarly conclusions may be drawn about Lewis’ literary upbringing and interests that could perhaps inform discussions around Lewis’ work. This is a benefit of examining rare books in context, and demonstrates one way that students and researchers can engage with the Rare Books Collection.

Deluxe books, especially for children, were often given as Christmas gifts in the early twentieth century. This stately edition is a collection of some of Andersen’s most loved stories, including ‘The Snow Queen’ and ‘The Mermaid’. The book is bound in pictorial cloth with beautiful inlaid gilt, as shown at right:

The book includes illustrations by French artist, Edmund Dulac (1882 – 1953). Dulac’s illustrations were exhibited by Leicester Galleries, and published by Hodder & Stoughton. The illustrations are of exceptional quality and were tipped-in separately. Dulac was a leading artist in the Golden Age of Illustration, alongside others such as Arthur Rackham, W. Heath Robinson, and Kay Nielsen. These artists largely provided illustrations for children’s books, and typically experimented with colour and rendering techniques. Their efforts were very well received:

Dulac's art, however, is not of the kind that only the critic may enjoy, for it is rich with poetry and imagination, and strong in the possession of that decorative element which renders a picture universally pleasing” (Stuart, 1910)

 For lovely examples of Dulac’s work see the Snow Queen and other characters below:






To view these books and other rare items, or for research advice and discussion contact Rare Books, or come and visit us at the new Special Collections Reading Room at Matheson Library.


Andersen, Hans Christian. Stories from Hans Andersen. Illustrated by Edmund Dulac, 2nd ed., Hodder & Stoughton, 1912.

Cole, C. W., and William Ralston. Tippoo : A Tale of a Tiger. New Ed., Simpkin Marshall / Hamilton Kent & Co, 1905.

Stuart, Evelyn Marie. “Edmund Dulac—A Poet of the Brush.” Fine Arts Journal, vol. 23, no. 2, 1910, pp. 87–102. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23905910.
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