A discovery and a mystery

Imagine our excitement in December when we were contacted by the Collections Officer at Winterbourne House and Garden in Birmingham to say that they had a first edition of Drawn from Life by E.H. Shepard. The book had been donated for reselling as part of their second-hand book stock but they thought it might better belong with our E.H. Shepard archive. Now, we already hold copies of this book and indeed have the signed copy which Shepard gave to his wife, Norah, in 1961.  So, we might have said no to an additional copy.  However, what made this book special and what alerted the Collections Officer was that it was signed, it had a piece of paper sellotaped into it  – “Yours ever, Kipper” – and had a number of articles and photographs loose or taped into it. 

So the answer was a very enthusiastic yes.

The book and its enclosures are quite intriguing.   Firstly, the signature and the additional inscription.  The signature is just that, “E.H. Shepard” without any further comment.  But Kipper was Shepard’s nickname.  So seemingly impersonal and personal.  But why is the “Yours ever, Kipper” written on a different piece of paper and then sellotaped in?  And for whom?  Someone known to Shepard?  We know that Shepard sometimes received copies of his own books in the post with requests to sign them – we have L.H. Vowels letter from 1961 accompanying his copy of Drawn from Memory, (to which Drawn from Life is the sequel) which Shepard has agreed to autograph (EHS/C/5/2/11). 

And then, there is a second intriguing inscription “Beatrice M. Thornhill for Diana Daglish, Christmas 1961”.  Drawn from Life was published in 1961.  So did Beatrice ask Shepard to sign a copy of his new book as a Christmas present for Diana?  Sadly neither Beatrice nor Diana appear in a search of the Shepard archive catalogue so we do not hold any evidence for (or indeed against) Beatrice and Diana being connections of the Shepard family.

And the mystery deepens…Three photographs had been taped into the back of the book – of the float for Mafeking Day in 1900; of Shepard’s sister-in-law, Adrienne Chaplin; and of Shepard’s first wife, Florence, and her sister, Adrienne.   And they are marked up with page references, linking the photographs to sections of the text.  Why?  Who did this?  The photographs suggest a personal connection.

There are also two reviews of Drawn from Life clipped from magazines and marked up as dating from 1961 and 1962.

And finally, tucked into the book, a long magazine article had been folded up and tucked inside the book, titled “The Man Who Drew Pooh”.  There is no citation written on these pages and it comes from one of those annoying (to an archivist) publications that do not put their title or a date next to the page numbers so you have no idea where it came from.  The look and feel of the pages is that of the type of magazine which used to come with the Sunday papers 30 years ago, but clearly must be older than that as the article refers to the events in the 1960s and is with Shepard himself.  On this occasion, though, no need to speculate! A search for the journalist, Brenda Jones, in the Shepard archive catalogue has identified correspondence from her to Shepard in 1969 about a potential article in The Sunday Times Magazine (EHS/C/5/4/21 to EHS/C/5/4/24).  And then a letter from November 1969 from someone who read the article links the title – “The Man Who Drew Pooh” – to The Sunday Times magazine. So we know that the owner of this book was still interested in Shepard in 1969, though of course we don’t know who owned the book. 

All in all, a very exciting discovery: the book, and its enclosed photographs and articles are all wonderful additions to the archive.   And they help answer the question of why, in archives, we keep some items and not others and of how the presence of some items is sometimes simply down to good fortune.  And for me it demonstrates that whilst an item will be in archive because it fulfils a particular collecting rationale, the interest can go way beyond that.  So from this book and its enclosures we can learn more about Shepard and his work.  But the book, its enclosures and inscriptions also exist within the context of reading, book buying generally, how people interact with books and books as artefacts (by which I mean books which have a significance beyond the information printed within them). 

The catalogue record for the book is viewable on our online catalogue.  If you want to see the book for yourself, email us to make an appointment to visit our Research Room and ask to see item EHS/B/1/11.  As Covid restrictions begin to lift, we look forward to welcoming you to our Archives Research Room.

And finally, very many thanks to our eagle-eyed colleagues at Winterbourne House!