Two little gardeners

November 21, 2014

PeterWhen I saw the lumpy little boy on the left at an antique show, I had to buy him.  (Along with his sister; I didn’t want to break up the family.)

Why?  Because I recognized him.  I already had his … ah … twin.

“The Little Gardiner” (proofreading is so important) is the frontispiece for Peter Parley’s Story of the Little Gardener, a little paperback book published in 1833.  It’s a sentimental little story about an Irish orphan who makes good.  The orphan’s name is Peter.Gardener

“Peter the Little Gardener” advertises W. N. Stevens Variety Store, at “S. E. corner of Third and Arch Streets,” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The ad probably is late 1830s; the store was at this address from 1837 to 1839. (It’s advertised in Philadelphia newspapers until at least 1845.)  An early owner named Simon laid claim to a picture he clearly liked. (His name is also on the back.)

They’re an interesting pair.  The original is a wood engraving, overseen by Samuel Griswold Goodrich, who was particular about the illustrations in his works.  The lines are delicate, and Peter’s face has a 19th-century glassy-eyed sweetness.  (Though that hat is not going to stay on his head for long.)  The copy is evidently a wood cut, with thicker lines.  The artist apparently needed some more lessons.  (And that hat isn’t staying on long, either.)  It’s a mirror image because the artist was copying without taking into consideration what was going to happen when the wood block was printed.

Illustrations often were copied, reworked, and edited.  Though this one is a puzzler.  Why put the character’s name on the illustration?  Could there have been a pirated copy of the little chapbook?  (Goodrich’s creations were copied more than once.)  Did it have the wood cut as a frontispiece?  And what on earth kind of plant is that?  How do you keep it from toppling right over?