John Tenniel – The Godfather


It’s high time I write about THE most important illustrator of Alice in Wonderland, Sir John Tenniel. The first illustrator of Alice (although one could argue that Dodgson is the first one), the one chosen by Carroll himself to bring his creation to life. In many ways, Tenniel, made the template for the hundreds of illustrators of Alice that came to follow, and were inspired by his design.

Why haven’t I written about him yet, and why do so now? First of all, I don’t have an early edition of Alice in Wonderland. Famously, the extremely coveted and super rare 1865 true first edition, out in 2,000 copies, was withdrawn by Carroll, to Tenniel’s request, as he wasn’t pleased with the quality of the print. At his own expense, Dodgson aka Carroll, had them reprinted, and of this particular edition, only a handful remain (22 copies known to exist).
When I go through antique book shops, I always look for a forgotten copy, a lost treasure, maybe an inscribed one, somehow lingering in the back of a dusty shelf, in fine condition, sold for $3. I keep on dreaming. As it goes with Alice in Wonderland book collecting, there isn’t a straight clear line with the history of its printed editions, and there any many twists and turns along the way. Thus, the next first edition appears on 1866. Those can be found, even online, but the rates are around $13,000, and I guess, all the rest of my 300+ Alice editions aren’t worth as much as that. Would I trade all my Alice books, to a 1866 one? Probably not, would I do it for an 1865 one? yes! That’s the Holy Grail of collecting the Alice books.

The edition I’ll post about here, is a 1984 facsimile edition of Alice in Wonderland, published by Macmillan ,which is the closest thing I’ll have for a while.
Back to the book, and to Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914), English illustrator, known for his work for Punch magazine, and mostly famous for his ‘Alice’s adventures in Wonderland’, and ‘Through the Looking-glass’ illustrations.

He worked closely with Dodgson, and the two had a written correspondence. Part of why I haven’t gotten to writing about Tenniel yet, is that I wanted to read Morton Cohen’s ‘Lewis Carroll & His Illustrators: Collaborations and Correspondence, 1865-1898’. I can tell you that in the past year, I have traveled to 3 countries, with this book in my suitcase, meaning to read it, and haven’t done so yet. Shame on me. It’s on my to-do, and once I get to it, I’ll come back and edit this post.
Tenniel’s illustrations were engraved onto wood, and those wooden blocks were the masters for the electrotype copies that were used for the actual printing. I have very little idea what the last sentence says, but it seemed like important information. Read more about Tenniel here.
The Godfather of Alice. He deserves a deeper understanding of his work, part of why I tread lightly around this edition. In time, I’ll go back and edit it.
For now, let’s dive into the book
Front cover,with a gilded image of Alice carrying the pig baby

The trial, placed before the title page

Title page, published in London, by Macmillan & co. 1866 (I wish – reminder, this is the 1984 facsimile edition)

The White rabbit

Alice in the hall of doors

Alice looking at the White rabbit going into Wonderland

Alice swimming in her pool of tears

Alice and the dodo

Alice in the White Rabbit’s house

Alice’s giant hand, and the white rabbit

Alice and the puppy

Alice and the Caterpillar

Father William standing on his head

Father William’s back-somersault

Father William dissolving the Goose, beak, bones and all

Father William balancing a snake on his nose

The Footmen

Alice, the Duchess, the baby, the cook, and the Cheshire cat.
It is thought that Tenniel was heavily influenced by the painting named ‘The Ugly Duchess‘ also known as ‘A Grotesque Old Woman’ by Flemish artist Quentin Matsys, dating to 1513. More information about this painting here.

Alice and the pig baby

Alice and the Cheshire cat

The Cheshire cat disappearing

A Mad Tea Party

The Hatter

The Hatter, the Dormouse, and the March hare

Painting the Roses

The Croquet ground

Alice and the Flamingo

The Cheshire cat, trolling the Queen and King

The Gryphon sleeping

Alice, the Gryphon, and the Mock turtle

The Lobster Quadrille


The White rabbit at the trial

The Hatter giving a testimony at the trial

The Hatter

Alice at the trial

Who stole the Tarts?

Nothing but a pack of cards

Back cover with the Cheshire cat printed in gild

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