A short paragraph in the newspaper caught my eye earlier in the week: it was about the sale of a rare first edition of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Having been unable to interest a publishing house in her book, Beatrix Potter paid for 250 copies to be privately printed. That was in 1901 and the reason why the sale of one of these rare copies interested me was that, 45 years after the book was first printed, my grandmother, (the same grandparent who sailed out to marry in Egypt in 1919) sold a similar copy that she owned from the same original 250. Although sadly I don’t know how much she sold it for, I doubt it would have fetched a fraction of what today’s copy is hoping to achieve: in the region of £30,000.
Money was tight after the war and she had a special reason for wishing to raise some, more than for everyday expenses. Her eldest daughter, my aunt, still alive today at 90, had got married to a serving officer in the US Army, who was stationed somewhere in middle England, while she worked for the War Office in Cambridge. They got married in 1944, when my aunt was 22, and not before my grandfather had written to America ( to who in America, I am not sure) to check that her fiancé was not already married. Quite common to do that sort of checking in times of war, I imagine. It was not until early in 1946 that my aunt, with a lot of help from my grandmother, secured a passage, at two days’ notice, on a troopship returning to the US and the start of her new life as the wife of an American.
A year later she was expecting her first child and my grandmother, wanting to be there to help, had to find the fare to go out on the Queen Mary. Hence the reluctant sale of her first edition of Peter Rabbit. When she returned some months later, she had the wedding dress my aunt had worn in her luggage, as my own mother was getting married later that year and needed it, her coupons doubtless not stretching far enough for a satin dress, unlike Princess Elizabeth who married exactly two months after my parents and was allowed extra coupons for her own dress.