First Editions of Peter Rabbit

January 24, 2011.

One of the most popular children’s books of all time, The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold more than 45 million copies over the past century.  As well as being a beloved children’s story, the book’s publication history is very interesting, with two private printings appearing before the first commercial edition. And as with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,  these early editions are extremely scarce and highly sought after by collectors. What do these early printings of Peter Rabbit look like, and how can you identify first editions? We happen to have a copy of each in stock at the moment, providing an excellent opportunity for comparison:

Peter Rabbit first edition, first printing. December 1901.

Peter Rabbit began as an illustrated letter written by Beatrix Potter for the children of her former governess in 1893. A few years later she offered the story to a number of publishers and was turned down. There had been  significant growth in the market for children’s books with coloured illustrations, and publishers were uninterested in the forty-two pen and ink drawings with which Potter had illustrated Peter Rabbit. Undaunted, she chose to have 250 copies privately printed and bound in simple grey paper covers, all at her own expense. The copy shown above is a particularly fine example; the books were usually given to children so they received a great deal of wear and tear. Each copy included a colour frontispiece (the illustration in front of the title page) depicting Peter’s mother feeding him chamomile tea in bed, and forty-one line drawings like the examples below. These copies are not dated and contain no copyright information aside from the word “copyright”.

Peter Rabbit first edition illustration.

Peter Rabbit first edition illustration.

The 250 copies were distributed to Potter’s family and friends and proved very popular, with Arthur Conan Doyle obtaining a copy for his own children. When the first printing was exhausted Potter arranged for a second private printing, and in February 1902 two hundred additional copies were produced. These look similar to the first printing but differ from it in two ways: the spine is rounded rather than flat, and the title page states “February 1902” whereas the title page to the first printing is undated.

Peter Rabbit first edition, second printing. February 1902.

Peter Rabbit first edition, second printing. Frontispiece and title page. Note the date February 1902.

Comparison of the spines of the first two printings of Peter Rabbit. The first printing (bottom) has a flat spine while the second (top) has a rounded spine.

Peter Rabbit first edition, second printing, 1902.

Meanwhile, a friend of Potter’s brought Peter Rabbit again to the attention of the publisher Frederick Warne & Co., one of the firms that had originally turned it down. They convinced Potter that she should shorten the book, reduce the number of illustrations, and re-illustrate the entire story in colour. Among the bits lost was an aside about Mrs. Rabbit growing tobacco to sell, illustrated with a plate depicting “…a little old buck-rabbit enjoying a pipe of rabbit-tobacco”.

…enjoying a pipe of rabbit-tobacco.

When it came to the production of the book Potter was a very involved author, making careful corrections to the text, suggesting the colours for the endpapers (though her choice was not used) and binding, and designing the cover and title page. The result was the first commercial edition of 8000 copies in various bindings, each with a colour illustration on the cover and 31 colour plates alongside the text:

Peter Rabbit first commercially published edition, first printing. October 1902.

Peter Rabbit first trade edition, colour illustration.

While the privately printed editions, with their simple grey covers, are easy to spot, it can be more difficult to distinguish the first commercial edition of Peter Rabbit from later printings. Some important indicators are the content changes that occurred as Potter refined the book during the first year it was commercially available. In the first three printings of the trade edition the text on page 51 reads “wept big tears”. Potter changed the wording to “shed big tears” for the fourth printing of April 1903. Copies that use the word “shed” are not early enough to be of collectible value.

Peter Rabbit issue point, “Wept big tears”.

“Peter gave himself up for lost and wept big tears…”

The first five printings of the trade edition also include four colour illustrations that do not appear in later printings, including a self-portrait of Beatrix Potter as Mrs. McGregor on page 14. As with “wept big tears”, the presence of these illustrations does not definitively indicate a first printing, but their absence is a strong sign that the copy doesn’t have collectible value.

Beatrix Potter as Mrs. McGregor.

First editions also have unique endpapers printed with a delicate floral pattern. These were discontinued in later printings and are a strong sign that you may have a first edition.

Peter Rabbit first trade edition endpapers.

There are several other important ponts to look for if you think you have a first trade edition of Peter Rabbit:

  • The book should be undated and published by Frederick Warne & Co.
  • Frederick Warne became a limited company in 1917, so any copy with “Limited” or  “Ltd.” after the publisher’s name on the cover or in the copyright information is not a first edition. Lacking the “Ltd.” does not necessarily make the book a first edition, but it’s a good reason to start investigating your copy.
  • The letters O on the spine and cover should have dots in their centers.
  • Any copy sporting a print code or an ISBN number is too new to have collectible value.

If you think you may have one of these early editions of Peter Rabbit please contact us for further information. You can also browse our full stock of books by Beatrix Potter online. You can read more about Beatrix Potter and view her artwork at the V&A website Peter Rabbit: The tale of the Tale.

Laura joined Peter Harrington in 2009 after completing a master's degree in book history at the University of London. Her special interests are science and medicine, modern literature, and the book culture of the medieval and early modern eras.


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  2. margaret

    May 15, 2014

    do you buy childrens antique books

    • Grace Barham

      Aug 18, 2015

      Hi Margaret,
      Our Selling Rare Books to Us form is a detailed breakdown of the information we require to make an offer or valuation.
      All enquiries should be answered within approximately 7 working days.
      Many thanks,
      Grace at Peter Harrington

  3. eileen taylor

    Oct 23, 2014

    i have 2 copies of beatrix potter one is the tale of peter rabbit lightgray/green cover.
    it has dot in the middle of the o and F.WARNE&Co on front. the line on pg 45 reads and shed big tears.
    reasonable condition, no dust cover only a little damage on top of spine.

    the tale of squirrel nutkin good condiotion, dot in o and F.WARNE & CO. dot under letter o.

    if you are interested please let me know

    thank you

    eileen taylor

    • Grace Barham

      Aug 18, 2015

      Hi Eileen,
      Our Selling Rare Books to Us form is a detailed breakdown of the information we require to make an offer or valuation.
      All enquiries should be answered within approximately 7 working days.
      Many thanks,
      Grace at Peter Harrington

  4. David Shuker

    Dec 01, 2014

    Hello, Laura. Thanks for this very informative and superbly illustrated article. I would just like to take issue with your comment: Any copy sporting a print code or an ISBN number is too new to have collectible value. This is surely too general. Frederick Warne and Co were using print codes from the 1940s and ISBN numbers do not appear until the 1970s. Collectors of various editions from the 1940s might be interested in variations in printers, for example. The prices that such copies attract are not in the stratospheric ranges of the first editions that you sell but then not all collectors have such deep pockets. Best wishes, David

  5. Jane

    Apr 09, 2015

    I have a copy of Peter Rabbit with the following on the title page verso: [copyright symbol] Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd. 1902, Printed in Great Britain for the publishers by William Clowes and Sons Ltd London and Beccles 629.657

    I think this is a post-1950, pre-1960 print run, but not sure. Can you confirm any details? Or let me know where to search for information?

    Thanks in advance for your time and advice.

  6. Michelle piper

    Jun 08, 2015

    I believe I may have one of the earliest the tale of Peter rabbit editions.

    The illustrations are in color. It is a blue hard cover book. And The pic of the rabbit on cover seems to be have glued on? Possibly we not able to print this pic on a cover in that day and age?

    Cover is in okay shape. But this interior pages are in fine condition.

    Please let me know if this Sparks and interest.

    Thank you.

    Michelle piper
    415 378-3794

    • Grace Barham

      Aug 18, 2015

      Hi Michelle,
      Our Selling Rare Books to Us form is a detailed breakdown of the information we require to make an offer or valuation.
      All enquiries should be answered within approximately 7 working days.
      Many thanks,
      Grace at Peter Harrington

  7. Judith Christian

    Jun 16, 2015

    My Tale of Peter Rabbit has no pages 6 & 7
    and has Frederick Warne & Co. , Inc. New York.
    Can you date this for me? Is it more valuable without pages?

    Could you date four Tales that say;
    “copyright in all countries signatory to the Bern Convention
    Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd
    London England
    Printed in Great Britain”

    Another (The Tale of Mrs. Tiggly-Winkle) says ” New York, Frederick Warne & Co., Inc. on the Title Page.
    However, the Copyright is 1905 by Frederick Warne & Co.

    • Grace Barham

      Aug 18, 2015

      Hi Jusdith
      I’m afraid it’s hard for us to date it, but we can certainly assure you that the lack of pages is not going to give it any collectable value at all. Sorry to disappoint you and thanks for getting in touch.
      Grace at Peter Harrington

  8. Nona

    Aug 25, 2015

    I have two, small red bound books each with two stories within.
    The first is Tale of Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddle Duck together Frederick Warne & Co. New York (no Ltd. yet) Copyright 1907 but no publication date
    The second is Flopsy Bunnies – Tailor of Gloucester together No publisher information, just a Printed By Edmund Evans, LTD. The Raquet Court Press, London S.E. There are front pages and no pages appear to be missing. There are quite a few blank page breaks within both books. I have not been able to find any information on them. Thank You,

  9. caroline wells

    Oct 15, 2015

    I have a copy of the tale of Peter Rabbit first edition, second printing in Feb 1902. It is in good condition and I was wondering if you could give any idea as to its value today.

    Caroline Wells

  10. Shaz Kane

    Oct 16, 2015

    I have an ITALIAN edition by F.Warne & co. Cannot find anything about it. Please can you help

    • Grace Barham

      Oct 29, 2015

      Hi Shaz,

      Our Selling Rare Books to Us form is a detailed breakdown of the information we require to make an offer or valuation.
      All enquiries should be answered within approximately 7 working days.

      Many thanks,
      Grace at Peter Harrington

  11. Angela Hewitt

    Oct 27, 2015

    I have two books both with their loose leaf covers. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson and The Tale of the Pie and the Patty man. They are clearly not first editions as they say &co ltd and they also have numbers. For example1563.484. However, they do not have signatory to the Berne Convention under copyright and colour plates are on one side only. So they pre-date double sided colour printing. Are they of any value please.
    Thank you

    • Grace Barham

      Oct 29, 2015

      Hi Angela,

      Our Selling Rare Books to Us form is a detailed breakdown of the information we require to make an offer or valuation.
      All enquiries should be answered within approximately 7 working days.

      Many thanks,
      Grace at Peter Harrington

    • Grace Barham

      Oct 29, 2015

      If they have print codes and dust jackets, but predate the ISBN, they probably date from the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s. As with most collectible books, there’s a dramatic fall in value from the first to later editions. A copy of any of the Peter Rabbit editions in fine condition in dust jacket has a certain saleable value as a charming children’s book, but it would be only a fraction of the value of a first printing.

  12. Arthur Fontaine

    Nov 27, 2015

    I have a copy of The Tale Of Peter Rabbit. F. Warne & Co. , Inc. with no copyright Date inside. It does say Shed Tears and it also says New York.
    It is Green Hard Cover and measures small like all the first editions. It also has the dots placed within the O’s in the words… Of, and Potter. It depicts pictures on the first pages as one opens the book with all Beatrix Potter’s Characters. I have noticed it does not state the numbers, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, for page numbers but and however and as I have collected many many upon many books in my life time, can say this about that! Often in early times this was done as there was no need for those pages really needing to be marked as such. Secondly, it very well can be correct in this assumption as if the reader opens the book and tuns the very first page, they will have the very first none numbered page to the left of them but the very first page will be right in front of them and hence the reader is automatically on page one, than two and 3 after that, and so on and so forth. And if this is done in such manner than pages one through to seven are indeed not missing at all!!! Just to give you a heads up on this matter of concern.
    If you were to ask of my expertise or experience in these matters? I can say of few things about my self. I am a collector and always have been to these sorts of things since a child, for one. Two, is that I exhaust all resources when I’ve discovered such valued treasures such as a 1st Ed. of Black Beauty for example that yes was at one time in my possession and a Bible of the King James version, with copy right date of 1489 and no other found within it’s pages and of course the slang of the day or the Kings Language and within it’s pages were also found a blank application to West Point Academy from 1789. Also Charles Dickens, 1st Ed. of A Tale of Two Cities and Christmas Carols to name off a few things. I also work with our Library of Congress to find many things I do not know and that as well has panned out for me many times regarding books and paintings and of such things.

    My Question is now, How much for this Book could I get??? Would you consider purchasing it from me? It does by the way have a Book cover I was able to find at a later date that I put on it. The cover I got says on it but let this not fool you… PAT. in Canada 1951,1953 & other PATENTS PENDING. I had to find a dust cover for such an ICONIC STORY BOOK, can ya blame me?
    I keep this book as well away from dust and sun light too! I’d make all my books air tight and water tight too if I could have. I also have these other copies by the same Author. The tale Of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle Copyright 1905 NEW YORK, The Tale Of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Copyright 1906, Copyright renewed 1934 with inscription that reads, For Stephanie from Cousin B. also NEW YORK, The Tale Of Squirrel Nutkin, A story for Norah, copyright, 1931, The Tailor Of Gloucester also 1931 NEW YORK, The Tale Of Two Bad Mice, Inscribed in it it says For W.M.L.W. The Little Girl who had the doll’s house, Copyright 1932 Original copyright 1904 & as well NEW YORK, The Tale Of Benjamin 1904 renewed 1932 and inscribed it says, For the children of Sawrey from Old Mr. Bunny also NEW YORK. The Tale Of Tom Kitten but is a 1989 print from New York, has pages with tape on inside holding some pages together. Not ripped mind you but just taped and first two decorative pages missing that have B. Potter’s Characters on them. Then and lastly I have ask, will you buy these from me???
    At fair price??? I ask only because I am in need of money right now. I am a 100% Disabled American Veteran living on pension that is not covering a partial roof I need for my home and money I had to spend that was unaccounted for to pay for electrical wiring that had to be done throughout the home as well!!! It’s a long story short but 3 home inspections did not for some reason catch this problem when I purchased the house last year and I have been hard pressed to catch up paying for the expenses and it is hurting my credit scores besides not being able to deal with collectors!!! Please let me know if you could help me! P.S., if you need my watchful eye to look out for anything in particular… I sure will do the same for you!!!
    A.G. Fontaine U.S. Army Retired

    • Grace Barham

      Dec 10, 2015

      Hi Arthur,
      I’ve passed your message on to the relevant expert, hopefully they will be in touch with you as soon as they are able.
      Many thanks,
      Grace at Peter Harrington

  13. Angela Dorsey

    Dec 18, 2015

    Hello Grace, I am writing to ask about a complete set of The World Of Peter Rabbit incased in a cardboard box along with a white wooden bookstand that I found in cleaning my moms house after she passed away. The reason I am inquiring about this book set which was published in 1990 by F.Warne & Co. is I want to know if there is any value to the set as it was never opened until I took it out of the box it was in when I found it . I would like to give the set to my granddaughter but she is 2 yrs. old and I don’t want to give the set to her if they may be of any value. I also know that the cardboard case that the books are in have the watercolor illustrations all around the box. On the top it reads New editions from the original watercolors. If you could help in anyway as to the value of this set I would greatly appreciate any information you may be able to provide me with. Thank You very much for your time. Angela Dorsey

    • Grace Barham

      Feb 08, 2016

      Unfortunately it’s just a reprint – all the ones with “LTD” after Frederick warne & CO are later reprints not worth anything.
      Grace at Peter Harrington.

  14. Pingback: Beatrix Potter: Author, Illustrator, Naturalist, Environmentalist – An Early Woman in STEM | My Chicago Botanic Garden

  15. Jodie robinson

    Feb 01, 2016

    Hi I have some Beatrix potter books not too sure on date would like to send u pictures to see if u would be able to date them for me ? X

  16. Mas

    Feb 05, 2016

    I have a copy of The Tale of Ginger & Pickles by Beatrix Potter (dot in the O)
    F. WARNE & Co Ltd
    Dedicated With very kind regards to Old Mr.John Taylor, Who “thinks he might pass as a Dormouse!” (Three years in bed and never a grumble)
    London Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd and New York
    string bound hardback book wit cream cover and green picture front window scene.
    Copyright Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd., London. Printed in Great Britain
    cats looking through window first colour page
    page 9 is inside shop cat, dog, rabbits, toad, colour illustration,
    page 18 hedgehog colour illustration
    page 23 outside shop ginger & pickles animals, colour illustration
    page 31 children in blue, dog, toys colour illustration
    page 38 cat at desk, colour illustration
    page 43 room with a desk, toy policeman, colour illustration
    page 54 dog shooting, colour illustration
    page 61 J.Dormouse, colour illustration
    page 72 Sally Henny Penny in shop, colour illustration
    page 10,17,24,32,37,44,53,62,71, blank

    Some black printed picture pages, some (10) coloured pages with blank pages on reverse of the colour illustration page,
    No isbn, no date
    Printed for the Publishers by Edmund Evans, Ltd.. 154 Clerkenwell Rd., London, E.C.1
    Excellent condition
    Please can you tell me if it is worth anything. Thank you. KInd Regards Mas.

  17. SARAH

    Aug 24, 2016

    i HAVE THE TALE OF TIMMY TIPTOES &JONNY THE TOWN MOUSE With no edition number but printed by William Clowes & Sons Ltd both with number 946-161, can you help with the date and edition Thanks

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