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Set of original electrotype plates for ‘Alice’ illustrations found at garage sale

Four original electrotyped plates, used for printing illustrations for the first edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”, have turned up during a garage sale in Bungay, Suffolk (UK).

According to Hull Daily Mail and Metro News (where I got the photo’s from), a man called Paul Searle unknowingly bought the plates as part of a lot of ‘junk’ during a garage sale, while actually looking for glass bottles for his collection.

According to mr. Searle, he wanted to ‘preserve them in history’ and see them returned to their ‘rightful home’. Hull Daily Mail mentions he ‘sold them to a book shop for an undisclosed fee’ but in their article title a sum of £5,000 is mentioned.

The book shop in question is Blackwell bookstore in Oxford. I called them to verify the information in the linked articles, because they are not very clear. The lot apparently contained two (not four) plates used to print the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (the Hatter holding a tea cup and slice of bread, and Father William doing a somersault), and two plates used to print the first edition of Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there (Haigha and Hatta with the fighting Lion and Unicorn in the back, and Alice standing at the ‘Queen Alice’ door with the frog).

Copper plate of the Hatter holding a tea cup and slice of bread illustration

Copper plate of the Father William doing a somersault illustration Copper plate of the Haigha and Hatta illustration

The articles say that The British Museum has verified that these are indeed original copper plates from the first edition. According to the book store it was the Victoria & Albert museum. I contacted the V&A, because I was curious how they would be able to tell the plates were used for the first editions, and not later ones. The V&A informed me that they were not able to help mr. Searle with the verification, because they “don’t get involved in artwork sales” and “the provenance is uncertain as we can’t tell what edition these were used for as they were unearthed much later on. Electrotypes were made over and over again from the same blocks, as they wore out new ones were made. They would look identical to each other regardless of edition”. I am now awaiting a response from the British Museum. [update: I called the British Museum, but they asked me to send an email. I’ve emailed them twice but unfortunately never received a response.]

Apparently there is already an interested buyer, so it is unclear whether the plates will publicly go for sale.

A year ago, a large collection of copper plates for both ‘Alice’ books was auctioned at Christies and fetched the huge amount of $81,250.

Copper electrotyped plates were made from the original woodblocks to make mass printing possible. Multiple versions of the copper plates had to be made, because these also wore during use. Read more about the creation of copper plates on my site.

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