In his fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen created worlds of imagination and full of heart: A lovestruck mermaid seeks an eternal soul, a foolish emperor parades around in invisible clothes, an outcast duckling searches for a welcoming family.
Besides authoring timeless stories such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Ugly Duckling,” Andersen occasionally created special scrapbooks as gifts for children of a few lucky acquaintances.
The Library holds one of them in its collections, assembled by Andersen and good friend Adolph Drewsen in 1862 for Drewsen’s 8-year-old grandson, Jonas.
Andersen and Drewsen filled the scrapbook (or “billedbog,” Danish for picture book) with images chosen from American, English, German and French periodicals and books. They cut out pictures, hand-colored them and glued them into the book. Andersen wrote poems or rhymes for 19 of them.
Over 140 pages, Andersen showed a world of adventure and fantasy. Soldiers fought battles in faraway places, explorers traversed the unknown. Around them moved a menagerie of walking, flying, swimming, slithering creatures.
Between a snake, a crocodile and figures of a man and a woman, Andersen inscribed a verse: “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.”
The scrapbook is part of a collection of first editions, manuscripts, letters and presentation copies gathered over a 30-year span by Danish actor Jean Hersholt — probably the most comprehensive collection of Andersen material in America. Hersholt donated it to the Library in the 1950s.
Today, some 160 years after he put scissors, glue and pen to paper, this billedbog demonstrates in different way Andersen’s unsurpassed talent for appealing to young imaginations.
Subscribe to the blog— it’s free!