Rare book reveals Potter priorities: Peter Rabbit resumes career in ballet as first edition goes under hammer

A RARE first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, one of about 200 she printed privately in 1902 (almost in desperation after six publishers rejected her manuscript) is to be sold, writes Dalya Alberge. The copy, inscribed by the author, will have an estimate of pounds 2,000 at Christie's in London on 15 December.

Warne & Co, one of those six publishing houses, reconsidered its decision just before the privately printed editions came out. It proved a wise decision: that particular tale has been reprinted 250 times and all 23 of them have sold 80 million copies world-wide.

Christie's noted that at a glance, the first edition looks similar to copies published today but says that closer examination reveals differences that provide an insight into Beatrix Potter's own ideas on the presentation of her 'bunny book'.

The size of the book was dictated by Potter's wishes that it be 'small enough for little hands to hold'. Her privately printed copy uses line drawings rather than the coloured illustrations of the Warne editions.

In fact, she objected to colour: apart from the printing expense she took the view that most of the colours, 'rabbit brown and green' were also 'rather uninteresting colours'. Warne eventually persuaded her to reconsider.

Potter, who sold her own copies for 1/2d, later sacrificed part of her royalties to keep the price as low as possible: she turned down the idea of a 'six-shilling' (30p) volume as 'little rabbits' could not afford it.

The same auction house yesterday sold a collection of letters that revealed a previously unknown male love of Oscar Wilde. The collection sold for pounds 18,700 to an anonymous collector who ignored the pounds 7,500 estimate.

(Photographs omitted)