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The art of any good book; CHRISTOPHER PROUDLOVE.

LYING at the bottom of a drawer in my home somewhere are half a dozen pages taken from a children's book, illustrations by doyen of dog artists Cecil Aldin. We bought them years ago intending to frame them and hang them the young apprentices' bedrooms.

The book was falling apart at the spine with numerous pages already missing, thus enabling the owner of the antique shop from whom we bought them to pick up the book cheaply. It was called The Mongrel Puppy Dog, published by Aldin in 1900, but as a book, it was done for.

The dealer had little choice other than to sell the illustrations, since restoration would have cost several times what it was worth. To us it represented a rich seam of charming illustrations that we could never have afforded otherwise, but I confess to still feeling remorse at having watched as the book was dissected and the six pages removed. The only mitigating circumstance was that if I hadn't bought them, someone else would.

We even had frames made for them, but they never made it on to the wall, because removed from the book, they are out of their context and have lost their meaning. In fairness, I did stop the dealer discarding the text that related to the illustrations and it remains with them, wrapped carefully in the same tissue paper in which they left the shop.

The experience taught me a lesson: pictures are pictures, books are books. The former hang on walls and the latter belong on bookshelves and under no circumstances should they be torn up to gratify the whims of collectors. Book breaking, as the practice of removing illustrations for their decorative value is called, is a crime which should be punishable in a court of law.

But there is a way of collecting book illustrations without resorting to the unforgivable: find the artists' originals, potentially a costly hobby, but one which will bring much more pleasure - and the higher return on one's investment.

Viewers of the latest TV "antiques" programme - Del Boys and Dealers on BBC1 - will have seen what I mean. Lucky wheeler dealers Richie and Nikki stumbled across a box of pictures in some back street saleroom and snapped them up for about PS30.

All original illustrations, they were valued at PS2,500. A geezer with an eye for a "tickle", Richie flogged them out of the back of his car for a grand.

All the illustrations on this page are original illustrations and no book was harmed in the process of acquiring them.

They come from the stock of dealer Mike Emeny of Art of the Imagination, the Salisbury gallery, who will be exhibiting at The Pavilions of Harrogate Antiques & Fine Art Fair later this month.

Mike explains: "Children's classics like Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Winnie-the-Pooh are remembered often as much for their illustrations as they are for their stories, while other artists such as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, E.H. Shepard and William Heath Robinson appeal to many people because of their imaginatively visual storytelling.

"Today you only need to take a trip around a high street bookshop to see the illustrative excellence that is currently available. The list of great contemporary illustrators includes Quentin Blake, Ronald Searle, Christian Birmingham, Paul Kidby and Peter Malon, who are very popular and much loved."

Owning any original artwork is highly satisfying. An oil painting could cost many thousands of pounds, whilst many book illustrations retail from just a few hundred pounds, although at a recent London auction, a small but delightful illustration by Beatrix Potter sold for more than PS250,000.

Sadly, the art of book illustration is under threat from new technology. Says Mike: "Our modern world wants things delivered to a very short deadline and publishers are not exempt from this. This has forced illustrators to either create fast character drawings or reach for the powerful computer software packages that are available today.

"This allows them to move parts of the image around, change colours and generally modify the illustration to the requirements of the publisher and author in an instant. A great innovation, but all these deadlines and the need to make corrections on the fly has meant there is no physical artwork."

The Harrogate fair provides an opportunity to get them while they last. Among the exhibits on sale will be works by Arthur Rackham (Peter Pan & Alice in Wonderland), Mary Tourtel (Rupert Bear), Steve Hutton (the Golden Compass movie), Charles Fockard (Arabian Nights, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Aesop's Fables and Pinocchio), Paul Kidby (Terry Pratchett novels) and Christian Birmingham.

The fair is at the Great Yorkshire Showground, just a few minutes from Harrogate town centre, and runs from June 20-22. Admission is PS5 but two readers get in free on production of a copy of this newspaper.
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Jun 7, 2014
Words:812
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