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 The Armitt has acquired a copy of the rarest of Beatrix Potter’s books, the English edition of ‘The Fairy Caravan’, which was inspired by her memory of seeing Ginnet’s Travelling Circus in Ambleside in 1895. Behind its publication lies a fascinating story.

In 1928, many years after the publication of the last of her famous little books, Beatrix Potter was persuaded by American friends to write a book, ‘The Fairy Caravan’, to be published only in the United States of America. However, to prevent pirated copies being made and sold in Britain she needed to ensure the UK copyright. So, she had 100 unbound copies of the American edition sent to Ambleside. With the assistance of George Middleton, the Ambleside printer, she removed the introduction and eighteen pages from each copy and substituted them with a new preface and dedication, a changed name, ‘Beatrix Heelis’,(her married name) rather than ‘Beatrix Potter’, added a page of sketches of all the dogs she had owned, and reprinted the missing pages in Ambleside, in a different type. The copies with the new pages were then bound and three copies were forwarded to Stationer’s Hall in London to establish the copyright. Beatrix then took the remaining 97 copies and distributed them as gifts to friends.

Deborah Walsh, the Curator of the Armitt said, ‘Beatrix Potter was a member of the Armitt, and all her personal copies of her little books came to us on her death. However, a copy of this book was not among them. We have a copy of the original American edition, and we even have her proof copy of the replacement pages, but not, until now, a copy of the UK edition. It is something of a curiosity, but a valuable addition to our Beatrix Potter collection. People might think it was a bit obsessive to worry about a book being pirated that she had no intention of publishing in Britain, but due to an oversight her original best-selling book ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ was never copyrighted in the USA and has been pirated ever since. After that mistake, made by her publisher’s American agent, she was extremely careful about copyrighting everything she did, including her Peter Rabbit doll which, of course, lead to her invention of cross merchandising.’

The book will join her other books on display as part of the Armitt’s permanent exhibition, Beatrix Potter- Image and Reality.