“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this realm is the fairest of all?”-The 1909 Illustrated Edition

W.H. Auden says of the Fairy Tales: “It is hardly too much to say that these tales rank next to the bible in importance.”

GFT Title Page   Limited Edition Leaf

The 1909 limited edition Fairy Tales of the Brother’s Grimm Illustrated by: Arthur Rackham is a truly breathtaking literary object. Published by Constable & Company Ltd. in London, this edition is a revised compilation of the same text and illustrations by Rackham produced by Messrs. Freemantle & Co. in 1900. While the text by the Grimm brothers remains the same, this special edition contains a number of entirely new Rackham illustrations in both colour and black and white. A mere 750 signed copies of this edition were published in 1909 and RBSC acquired this copy for the Arkley Collection in 1997.

GFT Leather Cover    Rackham Prefatory Note

As Rackham stipulates in his prefatory note (above), there are a number of changes (regarding the illustrations) that can be found in this edition:


“Some years ago a selection of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” with one hundred illustrations of mine in black and white was published – in 1900, by Messrs. Freemantle & Co., and afterwards by Messrs. Archibald Constable & Co., Ltd.

At intervals since then I have been at work on the original drawings, partially or entirely re-drawing some of them in colour, adding new ones in colour and in black and white, and generally overhauling them as a set, supplementing and omitting, with a view to the present edition.

Of the forty coloured illustrations, many are elaborations of the earlier black and white drawings or are founded on them. The frontispiece, and those facing pp. 34, 70, 94, 104, 116, 118, and 190 are entirely new, and several of the text illustrations also have not been published before. The remaining illustrations in the text have been reconsidered and worked on again to a greater or lesser degree.”

GFT Frontispiece The frontispiece: “The king could not contain himself for joy.”


The book is bound in thick, red leather and its edges are embellished with metallic gold. Clearly, ornamentation is important to the creators of this edition and this suggests that this edition had a specific purpose as a literary object. That is to say, this limited edition was meant to be purchased as a collectors item, an object to cherish and enjoy for its aesthetics more than the content of the book itself.

Edge   Binding

Considering the durability and detail in the binding and embellishments, it can be assumed that purchasing one of the 750 published copies would’ve been very expensive and thus, this is probably still the case for collectors. A unique feature in this specific copy of the Fairy Tales is the notes that are written on one of the first few pages:

GFT Inner Cover

In this photo, dollar amounts are clearly penciled onto the page and this seems to suggest that when the university was acquiring this copy, they paid $5250!! Crazy! Considering this would’ve been the price at the time of it’s acquisition in 1997, it can be assumed the price is considerably higher today. In doing a quick google search, I found that a signed copy of the 1909 limited edition is currently valued at over $18500 CDN. (Buy a small car or limited edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales? –the choice is yours!)


What makes this particular edition of the Fairy Tales special is Rackham’s additional and colour illustrations. Previous copies of the Rackham illustrated text included black and white images that were printed on the same page as text, like this example from “Hansel and Grethel:”

Hansel and Grethel

Here, the text of the tale, the black and white image and the accompanying quotation are all found on the same page.

While there are still a number of illustrations like this is in the 1909 edition, the most significant aspect of this edition is the tipped-in colour illustrations: where the image is printed separately from the main text of the book but is attached to the book using glue. In this edition, Rackham has illustrated 40 tipped-in plates that are printed on thinner, glossy paper, giving a specific sheen to the image that makes it stand out against the matte card stock. This is one of my favourite illustrations from the text:

Hansel and Grethel

“Hansel and Grethel”

With the tipped-in illustrations is an accompanying tissue guard that opposes the image, protecting it from potential scratches and other issues that could arise from the image being pressed into the thicker paper. In this case, the tissue guards also include quotations in red ink that describe the image. Below is the tissue guard quotation and tipped-in plate for “The Lady and the Lion:”

GFT Tissue Guard   The Lady and the Lion

(this is roughly how the illustration is presented in the book)

This technique was fairly common in expensive limited editions and increases the value of the book.


What I like most about this particular edition of the Fairy Tales is how the Rackham illustrations contribute to the experience of reading each of the tales. On their own, the Grimm’s account of these folktales are intriguing but Rackham’s beautiful interpretations of the text create a separate fantasy world that is easy to imagine. His artistic fantasies combine both realism and whimsy in a way that, I think, appeals to both adult and child audiences,and is perfectly encapsulated within the pages of the 1909 illustrated edition.

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