Held at: Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department [Contact Us]Philadelphia, PA, 19103
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Robert Lawson was born in New York City on October 4, 1892, and spent his early years in Montclair, New Jersey. Lawson attended the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts (which today is Parsons The New School for Design) from 1911-1914, then served in France as a camouflage artist during World War I. After the war, Lawson returned to New York to work as a freelance illustrator for Designer, Harper’s Weekly, Vogue, and other publications. In New York he met fellow artist and illustrator Marie Abrams and they married in 1922, moving to Westport, Connecticut a year later. To pay off their house they designed a new greeting card each day for three years, until the Great Depression forced them to sell the house and return to New York to find work.
In addition to his commercial work designing greeting cards and advertising, Lawson illustrated his first children’s book, The Wonderful Adventures of Little Prince Toofat (serialized 1921-1922 in Delineator and published in 1922), although he was apparently displeased with the results and never included the work in his records or library. A gap of eight years followed the publication of Little Prince Toofat, during which Lawson concentrated on his commercial work before returning to children’s book illustration in 1930. Around the same time he began etching and proved skilled enough to receive the John Taylor Arms Prize from the Society of American Etchers in 1931.
Soon the Lawsons were able to return to Westport and Lawson began to focus almost exclusively on illustrating children’s books. In 1936 he achieved his greatest recognition with the art for The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf. Two years later came Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Florence and Richard Atwater, and in 1939 Lawson branched out to authoring and illustrating his own children’s books. His first book, Ben and Me, began a thematic trend in Lawson’s works, telling the story of a famous historical figure through the first-person narrative of a close animal friend. Ben and Me told the story of Benjamin Franklin and his mouse, Amos. 1941 saw I Discover Columbus, in which the parrot Aurelius told of his voyage with Christopher Columbus, and in 1953 Scheherazade the horse carried Paul Revere on his famous ride in Mr. Revere and I. The final variation was 1956’s Captain Kidd’s Cat, introducing children to the famous Scottish pirate’s cat, McDermot.
Lawson received the Caldecott Medal in 1941 for the patriotic They Were Strong and Good, and twice received Caldecott Honors: one in 1938 for Four and Twenty Blackbirds: Nursery Rhymes of Yesterday Recalled for Children of Today (1937) and one the following year for Wee Gillis (1938), written by The Story of Ferdinand’s Munro Leaf. One of his most famous works, 1944’s Rabbit Hill, based on the Lawsons’ home of the same name in Westport, Connecticut, won the Newbery Medal in 1945, and he received a posthumous Newbery Honor in 1958 for his final book, 1957’s The Great Wheel. Lawson illustrated more than sixty books in his lifetime, writing or editing twenty, and many of his books remain popular and widely read today.
Children’s Literature Review, vol. 73.
Gardner, Frederick R. “Robert Lawson on My Shelves.” The Journal of the Long Island Book Collectors no. 3 (1975): 7-14.
Something About the Author, vol. 100.
This collection contains the literary papers of author and illustrator Robert Lawson. Lawson’s illustrations make up the bulk of this collection. The materials were primarily collected and compiled by Fredrick R. Gardner, and the collection includes some of Gardner's materials relating to his collecting project. Art for forty-seven titles is represented in the collection, including Lawson's well-known illustrations for Mr. Popper’s Penguins (1938) and the original dummy for The Story of Ferdinand (1936). The collection dates between 1900 and 1983 and consists of more than 1,200 matted illustrations for published and unpublished works (primarily pen and ink, but also including etchings and works in graphite and watercolor), an audiotape, correspondence, clippings, drafts, photographs, promotional materials, slides, and typescripts. There is also a framed self-portrait in oil paint and a filmstrip of the Caldecott-winning They Were Strong and Good. Frederick R. Gardner also collected first editions for most of Robert Lawson's published books, including several that are inscribed by Lawson.
The papers of Robert Lawson include unpublished manuscript drafts, reviews and critical material on his life and work, a selection of his correspondence, and a number of his published articles and speeches, including his acceptance speech for the 1945 Newbery Award for Rabbit Hill. There is a small number of promotional items, largely related to The Story of Ferdinand and its 1938 film adaptation by the Walt Disney Company. The autobiographical material includes hundreds of photographs and slides taken by Robert Lawson and his wife, illustrator Marie Lawson, while on vacations and at their home “Rabbit Hill” (Westport, CT). There is a collection of publicity photographs of Robert Lawson and Marie Lawson, and photographs related to the publications of They Were Strong and Good and The Story of Ferdinand. Photographs for The Story of Ferdinand feature Lawson with the author, Munro Leaf, and their longtime editor, May Massee. The Lawsons also designed and produced Christmas cards which can be found along with Robert Lawson's sketchbooks from his World War I deployment in France and a small selection of Marie Lawson’s artwork.
The records of Frederick R. Gardner related to the collection include catalogs and records documenting his purchases and correspondence relating to Gardner's collecting project. There are a number of letters to the Lawsons' former neighbor, Margaret Otto, who served as executrix of Robert Lawson's estate and who donated a number of his etchings to the collection. Otto's sales ledger of Lawson material is also included. There is also an audiotape of a 1963 interview with Lawson's long-time editor May Massee, newspaper clippings (some regarding Gardner's career and some regarding Robert Lawson's), photographs Gardner took during a visit to Rabbit Hill after the Lawsons' deaths, and promotional materials produced by the Free Library of Philadelphia for the 1977 Lawson exhibit organized to celebrate Frederick R. Gardner's donation.
This collection is arranged in five series: I. Papers of Robert Lawson; II. Photographs and Slides; III. Illustrations; IV. Published Volumes; V. Papers of Frederick R. Gardner related to the collection.
The first series includes eight subseries: i. Articles; ii. Books; iii. Correspondence; iv. Personal art of Robert and Marie Lawson; v. Press clippings; vi. Promotional materials; vii. Short Stories; viii. Speeches. The subseries for correspondence is arranged chronologically, all other subseries are arranged alphabetically by folder title.
The second series includes nine subseries, arranged alphabetically by folder title: i. Cabinet card photograph of Marie Lawson; ii. Contact prints and negatives reprinted by the Free Library; iii. Hand-colored platinotype of Marie Lawson; iv. Lawson family photo album; v. Negatives and contact prints; vi. Publicity photographs; vii. Rabbit Hill; viii. Slides; ix. "They Were Strong and Good" filmstrip.
The third series includes fifty subseries, arranged alphabetically by title. It includes forty-seven books written and/or illustrated by Robert Lawson, along with work he produced for Designer and Pictorial Review. The final subseries is a collection of his unpublished artwork and etchings.
The fourth series is arranged alphabetically by title.
The fifth series includes five subseries: i. Catalogs and Inventories; ii. Correspondence; iii. Clippings; iv. Photographs of Rabbit Hill; v. Promotional materials relating to the Free Library of Philadelphia's 1977 exhibit "Robert Lawson: Illustrator and Author."
The great majority of the materials were collected by Frederick R. Gardner and donated in batches between 1969 and 1977, but some items were individually purchased by the library from various dealers at later dates. Additionally, the etchings and their accompany sketches were donated by Margaret G. Otto, Robert Lawson's neighbor and an heir to his estate.
Gift of Frederick R. Gardner, 1969-1977.
- Aikin, Lucy, 1781-1864
- Allen, Fred, 1894-1956
- Arms, John Taylor, 1887-1953
- Atwater, Florence
- Atwater, Richard
- Bianco, Margery Williams, 1881-1944
- Brewton, John Edmund, 1898-1982
- Bunyan, John, 1628-1688
- Chester, George Randolph, 1869-1924
- Coatsworth, Elizabeth Jane, 1893-1986
- Elliott, Huger, 1877-1948
- Farjeon, Eleanor, 1881-1965
- Farrar, Geraldine, 1882-1967
- Fish, Helen Dean
- Flagler, Harry Harkness, b. 1870
- Forester, C. S. (Cecil Scott), 1899-1966
- Gardner, Frederick R.
- Lang, Andrew, 1844-1912
- Lawson, Marie A. (Marie Abrams), 1894-1956
- Lawson, Robert, 1892-1957
- Leaf, Munro, 1905-1976
- Marquand, John P. (John Phillips), 1893-1960
- Mason, Arthur, 1876-1955
- Massee, May, 1881-1966
- Otto, Margaret G.
- Ring, Barbra, 1870-
- Robinson, Thomas P. (Thomas Pendleton), 1878-
- Sayers, Frances Clarke, 1897-
- Stephens, James, 1882-1950
- Sterne, Emma Gelders, 1894-1971
- Sterner, Albert, 1863-1946
- Tarn, W. W. (William Woodthorpe), 1869-1957
- Teal, Val
- Vining, Elizabeth Gray, 1902-1999
- Young, Ella, 1867-1956
- Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
The right of access to material does not imply the right of publication. Permission for reprinting, reproduction, or extensive quotation from the rare books, manuscripts, prints, or drawings must be obtained through written application, stating the use to be made of the material. The reader bears the responsibility for any possible infringement of copyright laws in the publication of such material. A reproduction fee will be charged if the material is to be reproduced in a commercial publication.
This series is primarily fan mail from a wide variety of admirers but also includes some business correspondence (including the letter from the American Library Association awarding Lawson the 1940 Caldecott Medal) and a small selection of personal letters to the Lawsons.
This Week was the magazine section of the New York Herald-Tribune. Issue includes illustrations by Robert Lawson.
Youngs Wings was a monthly magazine put out by the Junior Literary Guild book club.
The folder for "The Silver Leopard" includes correspondence relating to its acquisition and to a related collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. It also includes a slide of Robert Lawson's proposed cover art for the story, were it to have been printed.
These photographs have been removed from the album and rehoused preserving original order.
With the exception of the slide box with partial index, these slides have been removed from their original boxes and rehoused preserving original order.
This file includes two 78 RPM records: the first is a voice-and-song children's recording of Walt Disney's "Ferdinand the Bull" adaptation released by Golden Record in 1950; the second record includes an excerpt from the Rudy Vallee program on November 24, 1938 of Sterlin Holloway reciting The Story of Ferdinand. There are also two CDs created by the Free Library in 2003 which include reformatted versions of the above records as well as an additional Rudy Vallee program excerpt and converted reel-to-reel interviews of Munro Leaf and publisher May Massee. The fifth item is a 1971 vinyl recording of Gwen Verdon reading The Story of Ferdinand and Wee Gillis.
Includes four of the illustrations produced to accompany the Designer serialization of Carl Sandburg's "Rootabaga Stories."
This item has been cropped and the remainder of the final art for this page is no longer extant.
This item has been cropped and the remainder of the final art for this page is no longer extant.
Includes two notes relating to its acquisition history and a handwritten note from Robert Lawson identifying the dummy as "original manuscript and pencil sketches."
Print labeled "one proof - plate destroyed."