From books to toys to clothes (and now a big movie), Beatrix Potter’s most popular character, Peter Rabbit, can be found almost anywhere. But did you know there’s a story behind the story of Peter? Read on to find out how our favourite rabbit found its way onto the page and beyond.
Beatrix Potter had her very own bunny pals. The “real” Peter Rabbit was a rabbit named Peter Piper. Beatrix Potter loved her pet rabbit Peter, and he went everywhere with her for nine years. She described Peter as a loving and quiet friend. He was also talented at performing tricks and could jump through a hoop, ring a bell and play the tambourine. Now that’s one smart rabbit!
It’s true. One of the most popular stories ever started off as a picture-story in a letter. The letter was for a sick boy named Noel Moore, the son of one of Potter’s friends. Noel was five at the time and Potter wasn’t sure how to cheer him up. So she decided to send him a story about four little rabbits called Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. Potter was also an artist, so she added some black-and-white drawings to go with the story. She didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Potter published the story of Peter Rabbit all on her own. In December, 1901, she had 250 copies printed and sold the books to her family and friends. When Frederick Warne & Co., a publisher that had rejected her story, heard that the book had sold out and Potter was printing another 200 copies, they agreed to publish a new version of the book, this time with colour illustrations. Today, over 45 million copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit have been sold around the world and it’s been translated into more than 35 languages!
Peter pops up in five of Potter’s other stories: The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, The Tale of Mr. Tod, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-winkle and The Tale of Ginger and Pickles. It’s easy to see that Potter loved animals and lots of her characters were based on pets she owned: Benjamin was a real rabbit and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle was a hedgehog that would sometimes travel with Potter to the seaside.
Illustration from The Tale of Ginger and Pickles
A certificate of registration for a Peter Rabbit doll, 1903. (Wikimedia/M.L. Wits/CC BY-SA)
In 1903, Potter designed and created the very first Peter Rabbit doll. She sewed the doll using cotton fabric and used brush bristles for whiskers. As Potter continued to write, more and more of her characters appeared on all sorts of things, from slippers to tea sets to board games. She was always involved to make sure things were being made properly. These were her beloved characters after all!