Thomas the Tank Engine and friends Percy, Harold and Annie are just a few of the friendly and nostalgic faces on offer in our December auctions. Add into the mix Noddy, Big Ears, Popeye, Winnie the Pooh and the Bunnykins rabbits and you have quite an eclectic children’s tea party! As a book specialist I see numerous collections of children’s literature, often collected on the merits of their illustrators alone. However, there are numerous avenues available at auction to explore and delight in children’s illustration beyond the medium of printed literature.
Timothy Marwood, Barbara Vernon Bailey and Robert Tyndall are three quite different artists who open doors into alternative fields of collecting through their engagement with childhood imagination.
Timothy Marwood was an illustrator for the Thomas and Friends magazines from 1987-2007, published by Marvel Comics until issue #305 in 1999. Although not classically considered a Marvel comic, the legacy of Thomas and Friends was interestingly hinted at with a Thomas the Tank Engine cameo in the 2015 Marvel film Ant Man. The director Peyton Reed, when interviewed about the inclusion of the cartoon train, emphasised Thomas’ status as a locomotive icon, ‘you could do any kind of toy train, but the personality of that thing and the eyes moving back and forth give it a whole vibe and took it to another level.’ There were also strict stipulations put in place to ensure ‘nobody could be tied to the tracks and run over by Thomas. Thomas couldn’t be doing anything that could be perceived by children as evil Thomas’, highlighting the importance of his childlike innocence to the Thomas brand. Marwood’s pen and ink illustrations included in Toovey’s December auction of Fine Art encapsulate the heroism and kindness represented by Thomas and Friends without the need of accompanying text [lots 93-96]. Any child’s bedroom would be improved with an original Marwood drawing of a rescue from Harold the Helicopter. Timothy Marwood also illustrated issues of Rosie & Jim, Thunderbirds and Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven and The Famous Five.
If you marvel over Blyton’s literary creations, why not take an imaginary trip to Toytown with an original Robert Tyndall watercolour of Noddy and his buddy Big Ears (Lot 99) Tyndall lived in Hove and, like Marwood, was trained at the prestigious Harrow School of Art before illustrating Roberta Leigh’s The Adventures of Twizzle and the Larry the Lamb series. It was only after the death of Harmsen Van Der Beek, Noddy’s original illustrator, that Tyndall got his chance in 1953 to draw this charming Blyton character. For Noddy’s 60th birthday in 2009, Tyndall collaborated with Blyton’s granddaughter Sophie Smallwood to produce the first Noddy book since 1963, ‘Noddy and the Farmyard Muddle’.
If a jolly jape to Toyland isn’t for you, perhaps the fluffy delights of Bunnykins are more up your street? Unlike Thomas and Noddy, the creation of Bunnykins stemmed from the imagination of one woman, Barbara Vernon Bailey. Some may find these rabbits whimsical; others might find merit in their depictions of nostalgic close-knit family life. What can be certain, however, is their great wit and character. Most familiar with ceramics will recognise the popular Royal Doulton Bunnykins figures [lot 1512], but more unusual are Vernon Bailey’s original watercolours, of which there are a choice of two available in our Fine Art December auction. Just try resisting the charms of leapfrogging rabbits (Lot 97) and an animal delivery service where a sparrow distributes the post to a rabbit in his top-floor treehouse apartment (Lot 98). What could be more magical than the thought of Sister Barbara, a nun-artist from Haywards Heath, drawing and painting by candlelight rabbits cooking, dancing and kissing under the mistletoe? It was these sentimental touches that make her illustrations so appealing and reproducible to the present day, not only for figures in three dimensions, but also for narrative decoration on children’s tableware.
If you enjoy indulging in a touch of nostalgia, you can also let your imagination run wild exploring over two hundred lots of collectors’ toys, dolls and games in our forthcoming December sale. While beautiful printed copies of childhood classics can be purchased in our specialist antiquarian book sales, it is worth considering the other objects of art and material culture they inspire to enrich any home or collection.