In honor of Beatrix Potter’s birthday yesterday, today’s “Fun Fact Friday” is all about the creator of the beloved Peter Rabbit books.
While many remember Beatrix Potter as the creator of the mischievous rabbit, she was more than only a children’s author and illustrator. In fact, Potter was also a scientist, conservationist, entrepreneur, and pioneer in licensing and merchandising literary characters. The character of Peter Rabbit first appeared in an illustrated letter she sent to the son of her former governess, and then expanded into what we would know as “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.” When publishers refused to publish the book in 1901 due to its small size, cheap price, and lack of rhyming, Potter self-published the book herself. Within a year Frederick Warne & Co. realized their mistake in rejecting her book and entered negotiations to print a color edition. A savvy business venture as it would turn out with Warne’s first print selling out before it was even published and the book so sought after that it had to be reprinted six times after its first year in print.
But Potter’s push for success would not end there. In 1903, the industrious author made her own Peter Rabbit doll and registered it at the Patent Office–making Peter Rabbit one of the oldest licensed characters. At the time it was unusual for creators to have legal recourse against others who created merchandise of their characters, and in this Potter was the first to create a brand of her artwork. She personally oversaw each detail in the items that were created based on her characters, from designing and painting figurines to overseeing contracts of manufacturing.
Even when she slowed down in the literary world, she continued to make a mark on the world in general. For instance, she was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association and was an accomplished sheep farmer. Potter also so loved the Lake District that after she passed she left 14 farms and over 4000 acres of land to Britain’s National Trust to ensure that the landscape which inspired her work would be preserved.
Even in the modern-day, Potter is still surprising readers and fans. In 2016 a lost Potter story, “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots,” was released after publisher Jo Hanks found references to it in an old biography of Potter and went in search of further information. Hanks found a sketch of the title character in the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as a layout of the manuscript.
Beatrix Potter was a woman to be reckoned with and helped shape the publishing and marketing world into the one we see today.