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Andrew Lang’s The Yellow Fairy Book, 1895 


This rare book is the fourth of Lang’s illustrated fairy books among his twelve-colored fairy books, which function as a collection, published from 1889 through 1910.  The Yellow book includes stories from the United States Bureau of Ethnology on Native Americans as well as Icelandic tales.


Thanks in part to the Victorians’ passion for collecting, Lang’s twelve-volumed fairy books have changed the habits of reading fairy tales not only as individual tales but also as part of a larger narrative, and Lang’s collections were one of the most extensive at the time and probably still are.  The universalism of his tales is unparalleled.  

Lang, a Scottish poet and novelist, is also known as a collector of folk tales, as a contributor to anthropology.  He participated in the early development of anthropology and was involved in the Folk-Lore Society (established 1878).  Lang attempted to collapse time and space to bring together the artifacts of different races so as to conduct a cross-cultural analysis, resulting in a colossal collection in terms of its cultural scope.  


The lighter-colored books, such as Yellow, Pink, and Lilac, are among the most difficult to find in good conditions, because of their greater susceptibility to dirt.  So do the earliest prints of Blue and Red, because of smaller printings.  


Lang’s fairy books were illustrated by the English inkmaster, Henry Justice Ford (1860–1941), whose art showed traces of the Pre-Raphaelites’ influences.  Ford juxtaposes danger with beauty against the lush English landscape in great illustrative details.  In comparison, the book covers look more minimalistic and avant garde, still artfully beautiful in modern aesthetics.  The cover of the Yellow book has the sylphlike fairy with upraised arms in worship of the sun and other graphics on its clothed cover in gilt, along with gilt edges.  


This copy of The Yellow Fairy Book is a Second Edition, published by Longmans, Green, and Co. London in 1895, and the format is the same as the First Edition published in 1894.  The book is in good condition, scarcely any wear, with a tissue-protected frontispiece, although the edges are lightly rubbed and some pages, lightly foxed, due to age.  There is a small inscription on the frontispiece.  For this light color to be preserved in this condition is rare, nonetheless, and it certainly is a classical treasure for collectors, and those looking to build a collection of Lang’s colored fairy books. 


Andrew Lang's The Yellow Fairy Book, 1895

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