First Edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit

First edition, first issue, privately printed in 1900, issued in 1901
First edition, first issue, privately printed in 1900, issued in 1901

July 28th marks the 148th birthday of Beatrix Potter:  illustrator, natural scientist, conservationist, and, of course, world-famous author of  The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Here at the University of Iowa, we are fortunate enough to have a copy of one of the first printings of this charming tale, which according to our acquisition papers, was previously owned by Potter’s niece. The provenance is not the only thing that makes this copy special, but the condition alone is enough to impress any Beatrix Potter collector. Children’s books were often avidly read and handled, hence, finding this famous piece of children’s literature in such good condition is quite remarkable. When placed next to a 1993 facsimile, only the size and slight difference in the color can distinguish the two.

IMG_5529 edit
The Tale of Peter Rabbit in it’s custom-made box which was likely made around 1948.

IMG_5514 edit

This particular book was one of 250 that were privately printed by Potter, as she was initially rejected by multiple publishers for commercial printing. It is widely believed that the first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit was printed in December 1901. However, our copy’s acquisition papers show that Potter’s records indicate it was privately printed in 1900, and then later issued in 1901.

Acquisition papers from 1948 stating this book was printed in 1900.
Acquisition papers from 1948 stating this book was printed in 1900.

After a second printing of 200 first editions of The Tale of Peter Rabbit in February 1902, the story started to gain some popularity. Eventually, after some textual alterations and the addition of color images, Frederick Warne & Co. published 8000 copies of the first commercially sold edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit in October 1902. Some of the changes to later productions were to omit pages that were deemed “unsuitable for children”.


One set of these omitted pages show how Peter Rabbit’s father was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor (this made it into the first commercially sold edition).


Another set of omitted pages show a rabbit smoking a pipe of tobacco (which only appears in the privately printed editions).

Along with many related Peter Rabbit books, such as The Peter Rabbit Pop-Up Book, Peter Rabbit’s Cookery Book, and Yours Affectionately, Peter Rabbit (currently on display in our reading room), we also have a later edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which is undated, but is at least as old as 1918 based on the decorated endpapers inside the book.This cover style, which began with the first commercially printed edition in 1902, can be seen in contemporary publications.

IMG_5550 edit
~1918 edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Beatrix Potter has thirty-three titles to her name, twenty-three being similarly written tales to accompany The Tale of Peter Rabbit. We have many of these wonderful tales in our collections, and audiences of young and old are welcome to take a look!

Can’t make it to to the collections? Check out a fully digitized version of the first edition, first printing of The Tale of Peter Rabbit here!

Beatrix Potter aficionado, Lindsay Morecraft