It is common knowledge that Warne failed to secure
the American copyright for Peter Rabbit in a timely manner. Because of
this, in 1904 the Henry Altemus Company was able to publish the first
American (pirated) edition. Massive confusion exists however as to
which Altemus edition is the true American first edition.
Most of the confusion is caused by the fact that Altemus did not change
the early title pages from edition to edition. Thus a 1915 Tale of
Peter Rabbit title page, for example, has the 1904 date at the bottom
just like the 1904 first. In fact all Altemus' The Tale of Peter Rabbit
books have this date at the bottom. Thus it is rather clear where the
mistakes come from.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit appeared initially in the six book Wee Books
for Wee Folks Series.
Altemus published Peter Rabbit in three different formats. The first
format which is the rarest was published only in 1904. It is pictured
here. It has line drawn pictures on the end papers. Originally it was
sold boxed with the Foolish Fox book. It is 5.5 x 4.25 inches.
By the end of 1904, Altemus had begun publishing
the second format of the Wee Books for Wee Folks Series. Initially this
book had a green cover as is pictured here. The inside of the book was
identical to the first edition book. Between 1908-1912, Altemus
published Peter Rabbit with a whitish/beige designed cover . (see
below). This latter book dropped the decorated end papers. The
illustrations are the same for the first three books. These books also
have the curious set up such that there is a picture opposite of each
page of text and then two blank pages.
Edition (first format)
Edition (second format)
In 1917 a third format of the second edition was
published. This blue book dropped the blank pages and the illustrations
are different from preceding volumes. This book and all that followed
it had 63 pages. The previous books had 123 pages.
Edition (third format)
In 1917, the third format of the Wee Books for Wee
Folks Peter Rabbit was introduced. This book has the familiar appliqué
(paste-on) cover. In fact at this time three other Peter Rabbit books
were published. Went to Sea, at the Farm, and Christmas. Although
initially they were part of the Wee Books for Wee Folks Series (since
it states Wee Books for Wee Folks at the top of their title pages), by
1918, these four books made up the Wee Folks Peter Rabbit Series.
Despite the fact that the 1918-1920 Peter Rabbit books still said Wee
Books for Wee Folks, the first four books were now listed in catalogues
and other books as being part of the Peter Rabbit Series. See http://henryaltemus.com/series/series189.htm
for more information.
Between 1917 and 1920 when the first four Peter Rabbit's with the
paste-on cover were introduced, the lettering on the cover was in light
Two different paste-ons have been seen on these early books. The usual
one which shows mother rabbit speaking to Peter and the exceptionally
rare variant which shows mother rabbit talking to Flopsy, Mopsy and
The earliest (1917 and early 1918) books had a
frontispiece which was not labeled as "frontispiece". Thereafter it
said "frontispiece" below the picture. See below.
The earliest dust jacket reverse in 1917 had a list
of Wee Books including two Peter Rabbit's. The 1918 jacket reverse
listed four Peter Rabbit books as the Peter Rabbit Series.
NOTE: Even the Tale of Peter Rabbit books published
after 1917 with the
appliqué cover had 1904 on the base of the title page.
Dating the third format books (books with the appliqué cover) can be
done easily. The advertisements and the end paper designs/colors have a
characteristic dating pattern. See http://henryaltemus.com/wee_books/index.htm