Lot 31: DR. SEUSS (THEODORE GEISEL) - THE SWEETEST STORY EVER TOLD, CIRCA 1938.
Catalog Note: A delightful original drawing comprising the earliest known version of Dr Seuss’s beloved character Horton (here a femaile elephant, Matilda), looking very pleased with herself, seated on a small egg, with captions written on banners above and below the image.
While a student at Dartmouth, trouble with the school administration (something to do with bootleg liquor) led Theodor Geisel to begin (1925) signing his cartoons in the college humor magazine Jack-o-Lantern with his middle name "Seuss" (for anonymity). Graduation that year was followed by study at Oxford and further travel in Europe, eventually returning to America in early 1927. Geisel’s first "professional" cartoon appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on July 16, 1927, followed by regular appearances in the popular humor magazine Judge beginning in October of that year, where in April 28, 1928 the "Dr" was first added to "Seuss" under one of his cartoons (apparently to make up for an advanced degree which he had not received during his year of post-graduate work at Oxford).
In the April 1938 issue of the same magazine, Geisel published a one-page story comprising another early version of Horton also featuring an elephant named Matilda (see p17). That story was entitled "Matilda, the Elephant with a Mother Complex. A Dr. Seuss Fable ". It was illustrated with two Seuss designs including a version of our drawing (with an additional figure and background, and with the elephant’s eyes now closed). Curiously, the Judge story conveys the opposite meaning of both our design and the Horton book ("Moral: Don’t go around hatching other folk’s eggs"). Judith and Neil Morgan, in their biography Dr. Seuss & Mr Geisel (1995), describe how a few years later a breeze from an open window lifted Matilda/Horton up into a tree (pp96/97), where she/he finally appeared in Horton Hatches the Egg (Random House, 1940). This book was an immediate success, and Horton remains among Seuss’s most beloved characters.
- Provenance: Given by Geisel to Harvey Poe, Jr (born in 1916) while the artist was vacationing in Brookline, Maine (Harvey Poe, Sr managed the Mountain Ash Inn & Cottages, where the artist stayed). Mr Poe believes it was given to him when he was about 9 (i.e. 1925) and while this is of course possible, it seems more likely the drawing was given to him well after Geisel’s return from Europe, probably soon after the similar design appeared in Judge magazine (April 1938).
pen-and-ink drawing on paper
10 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches; 11 x 8 1/2 inches
(267 x 165 mm; 279 x 216 mm)
Executed circa 1938.
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