Edmund Blampied's illustrations for Thomas Nelson books
Wrong artist, wrong address
The invitation almost went astray. In November 1916 Mr Edwin Jack of the Edinburgh publishers, Thomas Nelson and Sons, wrote to Mr Clifford L Blampied at 7 Elizabeth Place, St Heliers in Jersey, saying 'I think I am right in believing that you are responsible for some very interesting book wrappers' and requesting examples of his work.
This letter was actually meant for Edmund Blampied who was living then with his aunt at 2 Winchester Villas, Winchester Road, Saint Helier because, as Jack later remarked, he was 'pleased the letter found you'. The recipient of the letter was Clifford George Blampied (1875-1962), another Jersey artist active at the same time but of no direct relation to Edmund Blampied. There is no evidence that C G Blampied ever illustrated wrappers for books.
The letter from Jack was the start of a five and a half year association between Edmund Blampied (1886-1966) and Thomas Nelson and Sons, during which he designed wrappers for at least 28 novels, 11 of which were published in France; he illustrated new covers for editions of The Water Babies and Alice in Wonderland; he drew the covers and internal illustrations for three new storybooks for children including Two Little Scamps and a Puppy by Angela Brazil; he provided new pictures for an existing alphabet book, The Jolly ABC, and designed a new one from scratch called The Breezy Farm ABC; he developed a book for young children called Blam's Book if Fun; he contributed to several series of Nelson's annuals for children; and he worked with the author Evelyn Hardy to produce what was probably his finest work for Nelson, an illustrated storybook about farm life entitled At the Farm.
The bookwrappers that attracted Edwin Jack's attention were probably done for the London publishers Hodder and Stoughton because, before the end of 1916, Blampied had designed wrappers for some 30 books for Hodder, including several novels by Annie S Swan, at least five novels in the Great Russian Fiction series including On the Eve by Ivan Turgenev, and wrappers for inexpensive reprints of five books by the American author Jean Webster.
These commissions for Hodder and Stoughton were among the first that Blampied had done for bookwrappers alone, because most of his previous work had been for more lavish productions such as Me as a Model (1914) by W R Titterton, published by Frank and Cecil Palmer, and a presentation edition of The Money Moon (1914) by Jeffrey Farnol published by Sampson, Low and Marston.
It is likely, however, that the economies forced upon publishers by the First World War led to fewer presentation editions of books such as The Money Moon, which cost 10 shillings and 6 pence in 1915 - equivalent to about £22 in 1996 prices. This is not to say that book publishing was not thriving: the large numbers of English-speaking troops stationed on the Continent led to an expanded market for inexpensive novels which, according to stickers on bookwrappers of the period, could be received by every Post Office for 'free transmission to trench, camp and hospital'.
Lavish editions of books may not have suited a war-time mood of austerity, but small novels are an easily portable source of pleasure for troops with few other sources of entertainment. Nelson was in a good position to supply this market because, since their foundation in 1798 as publishers of religious fiction for children, they had 'aimed at producing a cheap product for the popular market'.
Most of Nelson's book list for the early days of the Great War comprised inexpensive editions of popular novels, reprinted by permission of the original publisher, which were sold at prices of between 9 pence and 2 shillings each, compared with first editions of the day which typically cost at least 5 shillings.
Nelson published novels in both English and French on the Continent, but they were all printed in Edinburgh, and the French novels were bound in characteristic creamy-white cloth, decorated in green and purple. An advertisement on one of these books, Belle-Rose by Amedee Achard, with a wrapper illustrated by Blampied (TN11), proclaimed on the rear panel under a heading Pour nos Soldats: En sacrifiant quelques francs, vous pouvez donner a nos braves defenseurs des heures inestimables de distraction, de joie, de reconfort.
Edwin Jack and the Nelson archive
Edwin Jack, the Scotsman who wrote to Blampied, was a commissioning editor for Nelson based at their Parkside Works in Edinburgh, and had responsibility for commissioning artwork for books, including the wrappers and illustrations for Nelson's extensive list of children's books and annuals. Jack was a partner in the publishing firm of T C and E C Jack, which incorporated with Thomas Nelson and Sons in 1915, and he continued to publish under the Jack imprint while developing books for Nelson.
Most of the details given here of the work done by Blampied for Nelson are taken from files containing carbon copies of correspondence from Edwin Jack to Blampied held by Edinburgh University Library in the Thomas Nelson Archive. These 'J Files' as they are labelled, were rescued in 1969 by E R S Fifoot, the University Librarian, when Nelson's Parkside factory was being demolished. Twenty of these 'J Files' contain carbon copies of some 150 letters or postcards dated between November 1916 and June 1922, written by Jack or his secretary to Edmund Blampied, or latterly to his brother John Blampied, who acted as an agent for him and other artists.
Unfortunately eight or nine of the 'J Files' are missing from the sequence. Judging from the dates of letters in preceding and following files, the gaps in correspondence mostly cover fairly short periods of between 46 and 89 days. These missing files may, unfortunately, contain details of wrappers for books that are not recorded in the table below, and one such book has been found (TN15). This is because the typical period between a request from Jack to prepare a bookwrapper, which was the smallest commission he received, and the date Blampied submitted the final illustration, was around four weeks.
However, the longest gap in the files, a period of 235 days between April and November 1921, covered a period when Blampied was working for other publishers such as T Fisher Unwin, as well as developing his career as an etcher and lithographer. This fact, coupled with a shortage of paper and increasing publishing costs, was reducing the number of books that Nelson could publish, so few books are likely to be missing.
The archive at Edinburgh University also has a file of correspondence concerning two books that Jack specifically wanted Blampied to design. This file, which is numbered M106 and labelled 'Blampied's two books: Blam's Funny Book and Blam's Nursery Book ', contains 9 hand-written letters from Blampied to Jack and carbon copies of Jack's replies, most of which are duplicates of the letters in the J Files. File M106 also contains copies of letters to the author of the text of Blam's Book if Fun.
In addition, files were examined containing letters from Jack to Mr J J Hutton of Nelson's Paris House, some of which concern designs Blampied had submitted to Jack for wrappers of French books.
The archive may contain more items of relevance to Blampied but it has not been catalogued in any detail, and many of the files of correspondence are in the state that they were rescued from Nelson's factory.
This article presents from a bibliographic perspective the drawings and illustrations commissioned from Blampied for books published by Thomas Nelson and Sons. The table below lists all books which contain (or are believed to contain if they have not been seen by this author), the first publication of original drawings by Blampied. The table does not give details of later editions or impressions, and it does not list new titles in which Blampied's illustrations have been used again, something that was particularly common practice for the children's books.
Whenever possible a reference in the J files to a bookwrapper or illustration has been confirmed by examining the copy held by the Bodleian Library at Oxford University or a copy owned by a collector. Until 1920 the wrappers of most novels submitted to the Bodleian Library were trimmed at the top and bottom and pasted inside the front cover; thereafter they were discarded until the practice of keeping wrappers was restarted in the 1930s.
None of the children's books or annuals that Blampied illustrated before 1920 and held by the Bodleian Library contain the wrappers, perhaps because they were not issued with wrappers (although letters in the archive refer to them), or because the wrappers were discarded as they were identical to the covers. Not all of the books listed in the Nelson archive are present in the Bodleian Library collection, perhaps because Nelson may already have submitted an earlier edition.
The table notes whether the author has confirmed Blampied's contribution to a book. Blampied's own album of his 'dust jackets' contains only one he designed for Thomas Nelson.
The first commissions
As a result of the invitation in November 1916, Blampied sent Jack some examples of his work, including wrappers he had done for other publishers. Jack was evidently interested and wrote: 'The design of Mr Teddy which you sent is very clever and arresting but we think we admire some of your designs which are simpler and less distracting looking'.
Jack then commissioned Blampied to design bookwrappers for two inexpensive novels: The Three Miss Graemes by Sarah MacNaughtan (TN1), a one shilling reprint of a novel first published by John Murray in 1908, and The Image in the Sand, a seven penny reprint of a novel by E F Benson first published by William Heinemann in 1905 (TN2).
This commission established the manner in which Blampied worked thereafter for Nelson. First he did a rough sketch based on dimensions supplied by Jack, with lettering if required, and sent it to Edinburgh. Next Jack approved the design or suggested some changes, usually in the light of how well the sketch might be printed in terms of its colour, background or contrast.
Finally Blampied submitted a detailed drawing which Nelson either printed as it was, reduced in size, or sometimes traced for use in a different format, such as a frontispiece.
The quality of the colour reproduction in inexpensive novels was not very high, but these were cheap books even then.
Although Jack gave detailed explanations of what was wanted in terms of dimensions and the lettering to go on a wrapper, he was generally not prescriptive about the design. He wrote about The Three Miss Graemes: 'We had better leave you without any instructions on our part as to the kind of cover we want, but we wish a decorative cover, one that will take the eye on a book stall'.
In another letter soon after, probably in response to a query or comment by Blampied, Jack agreed that 'it is important that you should read the books or a necessary portion of them as we like to have the wrappers really significant of the content of the book'. He added: 'We could, of course, save your time by marking or suggesting subjects, but the chances are if I made the selection that the subject would not appeal so strongly to the artist as one he had chosen himself'.
This way of working was certainly not novel to Blampied because, for about seven years from December 1904, he had worked in London for The Daily Chronicle, and latterly for Lloyds Weekly, as an illustrator of news stories. By the time he was contacted by Edwin Jack in late 1916, Blampied was probably highly adept at reading an article or story and quickly capturing some key element in an illustrative drawing.
Jack only once rejected the illustration for a bookwrapper: 'We duly received the drawing (for The Triumph of Tim (TN21) but we are extremely sorry to say that we do not care for it. We do not think that anyone not having read the book would understand its significance', a rather odd observation given that the same is true for most books.
Perhaps Jack simply didn't like the drawing. Whether there was anyone other than Jack involved in the process of commissioning or approving designs for wrappers is not clear, and the use of the first person plural may have been a way to make unpleasant decisions sound collective rather than personal, and to give them weight.
Before Blampied joined the armed forces in Jersey in about June 1917, he designed wrappers for 12 novels published by Nelson, two of which were for their Paris House, and illustrated new covers for two famous children's books, the first of which was The Water Babies (TN4). Jack thought Blampied's sketch for this book was 'charming' but he also commented it was 'not nearly quite bright enough for a cover for this kind of book' and that 'the interest is on the whole too much dispersed for a wrapper', reflecting a conflict between his artistic judgement of the illustration and his commercial interest in having an eye-catching cover. Nevertheless, Jack's appreciation of the design is clear and once the final drawing had been received he immediately commissioned a cover for Alice in Wonderland (TN7).
Both these children's classics were reprints of editions previously published by Nelson, and each contained four of the colour illustrations by A E Jackson (Water Babies) and Harry Rowntree (Alice). Blampied simply designed new covers.
These two commissions seem to have opened Jack's eyes to Blampied's skill as an illustrator for children because he wrote at the end of May 1917: 'the cover of Alice in Wonderland was such a happy one that we think you could do some drawings of this type which would please us'. But before this avenue of work could be explored further, Blampied was called up for military service in Jersey. His last bookwrappers for Nelson's before joining the army (for TN13 and TN14) were acknowledged by Jack on 29 June 1917, the last letter in the J Files for some months.
Syvret's biography of Blampied suggests that he did not produce any commercial art while serving in the Jersey Royal Garrison Battalion, except for the drypoint The Argument, drawn with a six-inch nail on a sheet of copper, which was later printed when he returned to London. Although Blampied was not demobilised until after the end of the war, probably in early 1919, and so was in military service for about 18 months, the correspondence from Jack indicates that Blampied started to work again for Nelson's in early 1918, about eight months after joining the Battalion.
Although a file of letters is missing from the archive (probably referring to TN15), a letter from Jack dated 9 April refers to a design received for a wrapper for The Three Fates (TN16), so Blampied must have indicated his willingness to accept commissions in February or March of 1918, whilst still serving in the Jersey Battalion. The address Jack used for correspondence with Blampied continued to be 2 Winchester Villas in Saint Helier, so if Blampied was living in barracks he remained in contact with Jack through this address, and he continued to use it until he returned to London in September 1919.
After Blampied re-established contact with Jack in around April 1918, as well as designing more wrappers for inexpensive popular novels he was offered some more substantial commissions, all for children's books. The first was in June 1918 for two illustrations in colour and 16 in line for a new children's story by Amy Whipple called Terry and Starshine (TN20). Blampied was offered a fee of £15 for these drawings. Terry and Starshine was one of what became a series of 21 illustrated storybooks for young children. The process used to print the cover was very simple and used only three or four flat colours because, as Jack wrote, 'What we want is an attractive, decorative cover in bright colours, something on the lines of a small poster which will tell out well when shown on a bookstall'.
Commissions for two other books in the series soon followed: Two Little Scamps and a Puppy by Angela Brazil (TN22), commissioned in September 1918, and John's Visit to the Farm by Evelyn Sharp (TN24), commissioned in December 1918. All these books were published in 1919 and then reprinted, without the original cover illustration, in at least three different formats until at least 1935. The first two, in the Little Folks Series, used the original internal colour illustration for the wrapper and were bound either in Nelson's characteristic decorated cream cloth, or in cheaper decorated blue boards of imitation cloth.
The final edition, republished in the mid 1930s and renamed The Happy Hours Series, no longer had a cover or colour illustration by Blampied, but retained the original line drawings.
The pictures Blampied produced for these books encouraged Jack to see if he could illustrate books for even younger children and, in December 1918, Jack sent Blampied a German book containing a number of drawings for children and asked him to provide some examples of work in the same style. 'What we are looking for' Jack wrote, 'are drawings of a fairly bold style for large children's picture books of the most juvenile kind. It is most important that the drawings should be very bright in colour'.
This was in order to employ the same process used to print the cover of Terry and Starshine in which a black outline is filled with solid blocks of colour. Blampied submitted some examples which Jack found very striking but commented that they were 'much too bizarre for a book for little children'. Jack then proposed a few subjects, including a nurse leading a group of small children, but reserved the right to decline the drawings if they were not satisfactory.
His concerns were unfounded as Blampied produced an illustration which Jack described as 'one of the most delightful children's drawings I have seen for a long time - so breezy and sunny'. Jack's enthusiasm for the drawing is shown by the fact that he used it in a double page spread in Baby's Annual (TN26) and again in a book called Hush-a-bye Baby (TN43) with the left half of the illustration printed on the cover. This commission was the first of many illustrations for books aimed at very young children and may have led Blampied to think about how such work should be credited to him.
Blampied and Blam
The name Blampied was not widely known in 1919 when these drawings were first published, and his name may have been difficult for young children to pronounce. The colour illustrations provided for the three books in the Little Folks Series (TN20, TN22, TN24) were all signed 'Blampied', as were all but one of the illustrations for Baby's Annual, the first of the annuals for which he provided illustrations. If Blampied was to continue signing his work he might well have considered it simpler to use the abbreviation 'Blam' that he had used once or twice before on wrappers of books for Hodder and Stoughton.
Although the drawing Jack liked was not signed, most of the other simple drawings for children that Blampied produced from that date were signed 'Blam', a signature that he used thereafter much more often for his commercial work - except for the book At the Farm.
At the Farm
While Blampied was finishing the illustrations for Baby's Annual in March 1919, Jack mentioned that Nelson were preparing a Farm Book for children for which they required 13 drawings in colour and 40 in black and white - a large commission. This was the most substantial book that Blampied illustrated for Nelson and took nearly six months to complete between March and September 1919.
Jack had commissioned Evelyn Hardy, a children's writer, to prepare a book to instruct children about farm life. While Hardy was writing the text, Jack asked Blampied to work on colour illustrations based on suggestions for subjects from Hardy so that they could be evenly dispersed throughout the book. After Hardy had completed each quarter of the manuscript Jack sent it to Blampied in Jersey to read and make notes of subjects for the black and white illustrations. Although At the Farm, as the book was eventually titled, is a story of two children's visit to their nurse's uncle's farm, a curiously indirect relationship, it was supposed to be an instructional storybook. Blampied's childhood familiarity with farm life in Jersey and his skill in drawing farm animals considerably strengthened the concept.
At the Farm was first published in a large octavo format of 148 pages, 29 x 22 cm, printed on fine quality paper with the full colour illustrations printed separately on glossy paper and bound into the text (TN27). Nelson bound the book in their typical cream cloth and pasted onto the cover a section of the illustration of two carthorses used for the frontispiece. This illustration, either in colour or as a black and white tracing of the original, was used repeatedly by Nelson in subsequent annuals and children's collections, suggesting that Jack considered it to be particularly fine.
The illustrations for At the Farm typify the way in which Blampied worked. He produced a rough sketch of the design for the wrapper, which Jack then asked him to modify so that the design was carried up to the top but 'leaving it sufficiently simple towards the top so that we can put in the lettering when we wish to do so'. The lettering was added later by Paul Woodrofe, not by Blampied. The second, smaller, edition of the book contained only four of the 12 colour plates and about a quarter of the text, in a 48 page book. The two later editions both contained more of the original text but used none of the colour pictures provided by Blampied and only had line illustrations.
The quality of the process used for printing the colour pictures for At the Farm probably led Blampied to sign all the colour illustrations with his full name. Seven of the 42 line drawings in the first edition are signed 'Blam', compared with 22 of 39 of the same illustrations used in the third edition, showing how Nelson sometimes obscured his signature. Blampied was paid 1 guinea for each line drawing and 5 guineas for each colour illustration, a sizeable amount in those days, but Jack said they were willing to pay this amount 'as we recognise that you have put a lot of work into them'. Blampied's total fee for the book was thus about £110. Evelyn Hardy was paid £20 for her 20,000 words.
As the business of developing the farm book was coming towards an end, Jack wrote to Blampied in June 1919 asking him to sketch out a new design for a 16-page children's alphabet based on existing verses. Jack asked for a variety of illustrations, some as full pages, some as half pages and some four to a page. The text had been used by Nelson before, and was used again, and included verses that might not be seen as appropriate today, such as 'U was an Usher, who liked little boys'.
Blampied rapidly did sketches for the book, which were acknowledged by Jack only 12 days after it was commissioned. Jack was delighted with the layout: 'It is bright and happy and the humourous touch you impart will charm the bairns. In every way the book is a long step in advance of the deadly dull ABCs which are usually put out'. Blampied soon sent Jack his drawings in black which were made into blocks, printed, and then returned to Blampied to add the colours. The book was first published on 16 unnumbered pages, 28 x 22 cm, printed on light card strengthened with linen and sewn together. The covers are of a similar card, backed with cloth, and there are decorative endpapers, signed Blam, made up of scenes in a scrap-book style.
It was also published as a book of 14 unnumbered pages printed on heavy boards, more suitable for handling by young children, with the letters A and Z printed inside the front and rear covers respectively, so there are no endpapers. The book was probably first published in late 1920, for the Christmas market, and was entitled The Jolly ABC, by 'Blam' (TN29). This acknowledgement of Blampied, even though he didn't write the text, probably came in response to a request for some form of recognition for his work, because in August 1919, when the book was almost finished, Jack wrote to Blampied: 'By all means let your name go on the book. I do not like the formal words "illustrated by". It would be better simply to say "by Blam" I think, or "pictures by Blam".'
The whole alphabet was reprinted, reduced in size and in black and white, in 1921 in the Nursery Book and in a book called Little Chums (1922), and was reissued in colour by Nelson nearly 15 years later, in 1935, printed on card, at the height of Blam's fame as an illustrator of scenes of British life published in the Illustrated London News.
The charm and humour of the illustrations for The Jolly ABC was recognised in 1994 by Oxford Games when they were working with staff of the Opie Collection of Children's Literature at the Bodleian Library to find illustrations to use on a children's board game. Blampied's designs for the letters were redrawn, without the knowledge of who 'Blam' was, and used on a board game called Bookworm.
In the same letter that Jack agreed to the use of the by-line 'Blam', he asked Blampied to plan a farm alphabet on similar lines, thereby happily combining the themes of the last two books Blampied had done for Nelson. There were no existing rhymes, but Jack could not see any 'reason why the book should not be approached from the artists' point of view'. He proposed that Blampied should design a series of pictures and that Nelson would have 'the jingles written for them'. Blampied did this within a month, Jack was again delighted with it, and commissioned the book in September 1919 on the same terms as The Jolly ABC - a fee of 60 guineas.
What alphabetical ideas Blampied had in mind when he drew the pictures for this ABC are hard to tell: the verse for the letter J shows five people chasing a Jersey cow across a field; the letter N shows a girl painting a pig with the verse 'N for naughty Nancy full of Nonsense'; and V shows a horse kicking a man into the air with the verse 'V for the Vicious pony kicking his master'. Perhaps in the end Blampied wrote the verses himself?
The Breezy Farm ABC by Blam (TN32) was published very soon after The Jolly ABC, most likely in early 1921, also as a slim 16-page book printed on card strengthened with linen, 28 x 22 em, with only one illustration signed: a discrete 'Blam' incorporated into the sign of the inn called 'The Three Blind Mice' shown in the letter 'I'. All the letters in the alphabet were later reproduced in black and white in the 1922 edition of The Nursery Book (TN46), while the theme for the illustration for the letter X, a girl in a snowstorm clutching a goose, was used again by Blampied for the cover of the 1922 edition of The Chummy Book (TN45).
Back to London and Blam's Book of Fun
In September 1919, soon after being demobilised, Blampied returned to London, a move perhaps enabled by the fees he had been earning for his illustrations for children's books. His work on At the Farm, the two ABC's, the three children's storybooks and a few other minor bookwrappers for Nelson's probably brought him around £230, and he was working for other publishers at the same time, such as Odhams, Herbert Jenkins and Hodder & Stoughton. In 1920 £230 was equivalent to about £5,000 in 1995 prices, and an advertisement in the magazine Drawing and Design around that time, for an illustrator of articles, offered a weekly wage of £5, so this income was almost equivalent to a year's salary for such a position.
On his return to England, Blampied lived for a few months at 64 Freegrove Road in Holloway before moving at the end of April 1920 to what he called his 'permanent' address at 9 Glencairn Road, Streatham, in south-west London. He rapidly re-established his career as an etcher and on 8 January 1920 was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter Etchers, an honour for which he received Jack's congratulations. Blampied was elected to the full fellowship a year later, a fairly rapid promotion by the Society's standards, and one not made by all Associates including Solomon van Abbe, Blampied's brother-inlaw. In 1914 Edmund Blampied had married Solomon's sister, Marianne. Van Abbe was another artist, etcher and illustrator of books, who typically signed his illustrations 'Abbey'. In 1917 Blampied had given Edwin Jack his brother-in-law's address, and Jack commissioned wrappers from Van Abbe as well.
Very soon after his return to London, Jack asked Blampied if he could 'scheme out' some children's picture books. During a visit Jack paid to Nelson's London office in Paternoster Row in early October 1919, Jack and Blampied met for the first time, and Blampied mentioned his idea for a book of amusing pictures later called by Jack the Blam Jolly Book. Jack described what he wanted in a letter in early March 1920: ' ... instead of working the humourous vein you could give us a number of similar pages devoted to children at play ... children with dogs, cats and dolls ... aim(ed) at the very little child of about 6 ... (with) drawings of all shapes and sizes'. Jack continued: 'It would add a fresh note to the books, too, if there were a good many silhouettes'. Blampied, who had a life-long love of silhouettes, welcomed this idea and proposed a 'well arranged scrap book ... the whole to be as full of novelty and variety as possible'.
The first book, called Blam's Book of Fun, was published in 1921 and comprised 32 pages in board covers, 28 x 23 cm, with five full-page colour illustrations showing children playing, four full-page black and white illustrations and 27 other line drawings including some silhouettes. None of the illustrations in the book are signed. The 'letterpress', as Jack called the text for the book, consisted of short verses and stories written specifically for the illustrations by Amy Steedman, who was editor of Baby's Annual for which Blampied had provided the cover illustrations. Steedman was paid £7.
Even before the first 'Blam' book was finished in May 1920 it appeared that the second book Jack had planned would not be commissioned: 'Owing to the horrible rise in costs I fear we shall not be able to tackle the second book of sketches, which I proposed to entitle Blam's Nursery Book, at the present time'. The idea was never developed further, although Blampied contributed to The Nursery Book, the children's annual which succeeded the first and only edition of Baby's Annual. The rise in costs may also have delayed or prevented the publication of other significant projects that had already been commissioned by Jack, including a major series planned for publication in France.
Blampied was probably asked to design wrappers for books published by Nelson's Paris house because he could read French, but Jack also thought that Blampied could 'give us something that will appeal to French taste'. Blampied was typically lent an old edition of the book and, for his first few commissions, was asked to provide an illustration which could be used in two forms in the same book: first, as a cover, and second, without the lettering and cut down a little, as a frontispiece.
Because of the technical difficulties of using the same printing block for both the frontispiece and cover, or possibly to economise, the inclusion of a frontispiece using the same illustration as the wrapper was dropped after only two of the 10 books were published. For one of these French books, Colette Baudoche by Maurice Barres, Blampied was asked to illustrate a new wrapper because the author was not happy with the original design, so there are two wrapper designs for this book. At the author's request Blampied drew the cathedral of Metz in the background to his design. Blampied designed wrappers for two more books by Maurice Batres and several of these French books were reprinted for over 30 years with the Blampied dustwrappers.
In early 1920 Jack commissioned Blampied to illustrate one of Balzac's most famous stories, called Les Chouans. The book was for a new series to be called Je Raconte, based on a popular series published by T C & E C Jack called Told to the Children. These books comprised an abridged version of adult classics retold in 20,000 words of simple language for children. Jack had arranged for six volumes in the Told to the Children series to be translated into French, and for another six new volumes to be prepared in French, including Balzac's Les Chouans. Jack commissioned Blampied to prepare eight colour illustrations, one for the wrapper and seven to illustrate scenes from the book, all suitable for reduction in size.
It is sad to record that there is no evidence that this book was ever published. A letter from Jack to Blampied in October 1920 shows that Nelson's had not yet printed the drawings for Les Chouans, which probably would have been bound in or tipped in, and Jack wrote that 'the book is kept back ... like so many more' because of increasing costs of publishing. No edition of Les Chouans published by Nelson's in the early 1920s is listed in the Bodleian or British Library catalogues and, although Nelson's List for 1932 - 33 lists nine titles in a Collection Je Raconte, Les Chouans is not one of them. Five of the original six books from the Told to the Children series that Jack wanted to be translated are listed, but only one of the original six books that Jack asked his Paris colleagues to get permission to reprint. Even if the book was never published, Blampied nevertheless received a fee of 5 guineas for each picture, a total of £42. Seven of the eight original illustrations by Blampied were sold at Christies on 3 July 1998 for £3,700, including cornmission.
A developing career and children's annuals
Although Blampied was producing enough etchings and drypoints to be able to invite Jack to a show of his work in London in September 1920, he was obviously also keen to continue producing good commercial illustrations for the most juvenile of books. While finishing Blam's Book of Fun in May 1920 he speculatively sent Jack another illustration for Alice in Wonderland. Jack liked the drawing but wrote: 'in face of present costs we could not entertain a new edition of this book'. Blampied commiserated with the plight of publishers and noted that paper 'suitable for etching and lithography is almost unprocurable'.
Blampied was keen to criticise his own work for books 'so as to improve my work generally as much as possible'. But it is clear from the correspondence that Blampied was not sent copies of the books he had illustrated because, in September 1920, after almost four years of work for Nelson's, he asked Jack for proofs of the work he had done, and specifically for French bookwrappers 'as I never see them in town'. Jack sent Blampied wrappers from the French series, but none of these are present in Blampied's own album of dust-jackets, and neither are there copies of the covers he did for Nelson's children's annuals.
In the early 1920s Nelson published three children's annuals: The Jolly Book, The Chummy Book, and Baby's Annual, which was superseded after one issue in 1920 by The Nursery Book. Jack had particularly sought Blampied's work for the annuals for very young children, and several of his pictures appear as double-page, flat colour pictures showing simple scenes of children playing or as a striking cover. Although Jack liked the happy nature of Blampied's work he did have one criticism: 'I think that your children could be made much more pleasing looking'. He continued: 'I shall be glad if you would give attention to this point as children are very susceptible to the appearance of other children in pictures and are easily charmed by graceful little faces'. Throughout his career Blampied was never able to give the same character to the faces of young women and children as he gave to his drawings of elderly people.
As well as publishing illustrations commissioned especially for Nelson's children's annuals, Jack also used in these books many of the illustrations by Blampied that had already been published in other books, such as the pictures from Blam's Book if Fun, At the Farm and Two Little Scamps and a Puppy, or he included illustrations by Blampied obtained from other publishers. For example, The Chummy Book of 1922 contained eight half-page black and white illustrations for the story of Cinderella told in verse by Clifton Bingham. These drawings, four of which are signed Blam discretely within the drawings, were done originally for Odhams Publishers and were used with permission, based on a standing agreement.
Over the next 30 or more years Nelson's used Blampied's illustrations repeatedly in collected editions of stories and pictures for young children, a very simple way to recycle the same material to new generations of young children. For example, some of the colour pictures from At the Farm were used, with drawings by other artists, first in a boardbook called Uncle's Farm in 1921 which was republished as The Farmyard Book of Colour Pictures in 1934 and then reissued in 1938, again as Uncle's Farm but this time on thin card.
Some of these lovely pictures also appeared every few years in books such as The Children's Book of Coloured Pictures (1923), My Own Book of Coloured Pictures (1929) and The Farmyard Colour Pictures (1938). Similarly the simple line drawings from Blam's Book of Fun were used in books published by Nelson's until the middle 1950s, over 35 years after they had first been published. The author has recorded over 60 titles published by Nelson's containing Blampied's work, some as minor as a single unsigned line drawing used as a decoration for a title page.
The Zoo Book
The last notable children's book that Blampied did for Thomas Nelson and Sons was probably commissioned towards the end of 1921, and was not a success. The working title for a Zoo Book was first mentioned in correspondence in December of that year, but the book had been commissioned before then because Jack was already asking for the final drawings. Unfortunately some four files of letters between 13 April and 4 December 1921 are missing from the Nelson archive, which would have described what Jack had wanted. The book most likely was not seen as a sequel to At The Farm, as such a book, entitled At the Zoo, was published in the same format as At the Farm in the same year, with illustrations by Winifred Austin. Nevertheless, subsequent letters from Jack to Blampied indicate that he had requested 28 black and white drawings plus some in colour, so the book was to be quite substantial.
As well as writing in late 1921 and early 1922 to enquire about progress on the' Zoo Book', something that Jack rarely did because Blampied seems generally to have met commissions promptly, a note of dissatisfaction appears in a letter from Jack on 1 February 1922. It seems that Blampied had produced only 20 of the 28 drawings commissioned for the Zoo Book, and that 'the subjects chosen for colour do not give us much scope for a variety of colours', one of Jack's major concerns with books for small children. The letter was addressed to John Blampied, Edmund's brother, who made his living by acting as an agent for book artists and illustrators. This letter suggests that Edmund Blampied was not able to complete commissions as rapidly as before, perhaps because of other work. In place of the missing eight drawings Jack requested end-papers in the same scrap-book style that Blampied did for the ABCs.
The book was finally published some two years later, in 1924 (if the accession date of the copy in the Bodleian Library is any indicator), and the book is not credited to 'Blam' nor is the text credited to any author. It was called The Zoo Book and is a slim volume of 32 pages with a cover in colour and six more flat colour illustrations inserted within the text. There were only seven full page line drawings and eight smaller ones in the book, not the 20 originally received, and one of them is clearly not by Blampied. The variety of scenes is, indeed, limited and mostly shows simple static drawings of animals, or of children feeding animals behind bars. There are no endpapers to the book.
The end of the association
In early 1921 the market for books was not good and there was high inflation. Jack wrote to Blampied: 'Owing to the present condition of business we are drastically restricting our output' and apologised again for not yet being able to print Les Chouans. Although The Zoo Book provided Blampied with some work during 1921 there was no other work from Nelson's. The last commissions were placed by Jack in April 1922, when Blampied was 36 years old, and were for a wrapper for a story called Two on an Island by Ethel Talbot, and for a design for the binding that Nelson's proposed to use for a series of similar books. Blampied had, in 1920, designed a decorative binding for Nelson's Library for Girls as well as the wrapper for the first book in this series, Olive Roscoe by Evelyn Everett-Green.
Jack had approved the sketch for the wrapper of Two on an Island but was both unhappy with the final drawing and with the design for the binding. He wrote to John Blampied: 'We fear that Mr Blampied has finished this drawing in much too great a hurry. We shall, however, be able to use it with some alteration which we shall make here. We regret that the drawings for the binding are not suitable for our purpose. They are somewhat too pictorial and would not be suitable for a series of books. We are therefore returning these and regret the trouble Mr Blampied has had'. This was the last letter in the files from Jack to Blampied.
Edmund Blampied continued to design wrappers for books by other publishers, although the number that he did soon declined, probably as his reputation as an artist developed and as he started to work on a weekly basis for magazines such as The Bystander. The other book publishers he worked for, such as T Fisher Unwin and Herbert Jenkins, also asked him to provide designs for wrappers, but they were typically for higher quality books and used better printing methods. Some of the bookwrappers for these publishers are particularly fine and show how his artistic skill developed rapidly during his late thirties.
The children's drawings that Blampied did for Nelson's are an important and unique aspect of his work as a book illustrator and, although Jack may have reined in Blampied's fertile imagination and love of the eccentric, his work has a simple freshness and vitality, even if he was constrained by the simple flat colour printing processes that Nelson's mostly used. The body of work Blampied did for Thomas Nelson and Sons was also large: 48 books are recorded here out of a total of some 200 currently known books containing original wrappers or illustrations by Blampied. The income this work generated came at a crucial time in his career, and probably allowed him to re-establish himself after the war in London with its many publishers and galleries. Thomas Nelson and Sons, and Edwin Jack in particular, played an important role in the development and consolidation of Edmund Blampied's career as an artist.