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Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen!

(The following is a post by Taru Spiegel, Reference Specialist, European Division.)

April is the birthday month of the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75), known worldwide for his stories, especially The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Princess and the Pea. Expressions such as “an ugly duckling” and “the emperor’s new clothes” are, in fact, based on Andersen’s tales of the same names. Less well known today are Andersen’s novels, poems, plays, travel descriptions, travel illustrations, drawings, and the exquisite paper cuts he created using a well-documented and surprisingly large pair of scissors.

These very same scissors may have been used to cut out magazine pictures for the small number of scrapbooks that Andersen assembled for children of friends. Only a handful of these unique books have been found, one of which is owned by the Library of Congress and may be viewed online. [PDF] The Library of Congress picture book (billedbog in Danish) was assembled by Andersen and his friend Adolph Ludwig Drewsen (1803-85) for the latter’s grandson Jonas. Drewsen, a member of Andersen’s closest circle of friends, was married to Ingeborg, a daughter of Jonas Collin–Andersen’s first sponsor and lifelong supporter. One can easily imagine the two elderly gentlemen cozily enjoying themselves while choosing images from an impressive array of American, English, German, and French periodicals and books. Particularly interesting is the dramatic potential visible in so many of the pictures chosen. Indeed, Andersen’s phenomenal imagination conjured up stories about the most mundane objects, such as pins or galoshes.

The cutouts chosen by Andersen and Drewsen depict faraway places and peoples, animals, military scenes, learned men, and thrilling situations. Eventually the pictures were colored and mounted, and occasionally Andersen would add poems and rhymes to some of the images.

Collage of hand-colored cutouts with text by Hans Christian Andersen. From Billedbog til Jonas Drewsen, p.124, image 128 of 148.

This collage on page 124 has a little ditty by Andersen, which reads:

Han er ikke bange/ For den store Slange/ Saa nær han sig voved/ Dog strutte Haarenen sig paa hans Hoved/ Han er forlovet/ Du kan kjærsten kjende/ Der, hvor Slangen har ende/ Skjørtet er blaat; Jomfruen holder sig godt/ Hun skotter til Slange og krokodille/ Og siger: “I smaa, lig bare stille!”

[He is not afraid of/ the big snake/ and has come so close/ that the hair on his head is standing up straight/ He is engaged/ You will notice his sweetheart/ standing near the snake’s tail/ Her skirt is blue; the maiden has poise/ She glances at the snake and the crocodile/ and says: “Little ones, please lie still.”]

Hand-colored cutout of an owl with text by Hans Christian Andersen. Detail from Billedbog til Jonas Drewsen, p.39, image 43 of 148.

Also in an ironically romantic vein, the ditty by Andersen about a nightingale and an owl on page 39 most likely refers to the famous soprano, Jenny Lind (1820-87), known as the “Swedish nightingale,” for whom the younger Andersen, now the “the old owl,” had held romantic feelings. In 1852 Lind married her accompanist, Otto Goldschmidt, but continued to remain on friendly terms with Andersen.

The sumptuous menu pasted on page 51 is from an October 6 birthday celebration for King Frederick VII (1808-63). The meal featured thirteen courses with seven different kinds of wine. The provenance of the menu is unclear, but Andersen did visit the Danish royals from time to time. The author was much lionized in his lifetime, an honor he enjoyed and cherished. In turn, he was quite assiduous in cultivating influential connections. His diaries are full of notations about the people he visited, very often to read his stories to appreciative listeners. Several publications of his diaries are listed here as examples:

Menu from an October 6 birthday celebration for King Frederick VII (1808-63). Hand-colored cutouts added. From Billedbog til Jonas Drewsen, p.51, image 55 of 148.

The scrapbook is part of the impressive Anderseniana collection of the well-known Danish-born actor and philanthropist, Jean Hersholt, who donated it to the Library in the early 1950s. It is perhaps the most comprehensive collection in America of first editions, manuscripts, letters, presentation copies, and pictorial material relating to Hans Christian Andersen.

Valdemar and Pauline Sophia Drewsen, parents of the two-year-old Jonas, lived in Norway where Valdemar worked for a paper company. Possibly grandfather Adolph Drewsen in Denmark wanted to be remembered by the scrapbooks he co-created for far-away grandsons Viggo (1858-1930) and Jonas (1860-1929) in 1860 and 1862, respectively.

Viggo’s scrapbook, which surfaced only recently, is privately owned. Several scrapbooks for other children may be found in Denmark, one is held by Princeton’s Cotsen Library, and another one, entitled Christine’s Picture Book, has been published. Notably continuing in Andersen’s and Drewsen’s charming 19th-century cutout tradition is Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II, whose decoupages are well known. The Library of Congress catalog lists several Andersen stories with Her Majesty’s cutout art. Here are a few examples:

The Library of Congress scrapbook is held in the Rare Book & Special Collections Division. The online digitized versions, in both page-turner and PDF formats, may be found through the following Library of Congress catalog record:

[Billedbog til Jonas Drewsen / compiled by Hans Christian Andersen and A.L. Drewsen.] [Kjøbenhavn, ca. 1862]
[140] p. mounted col. illus., ports. 30 cm.
PT8103 .D7

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