January 8, 2008

Mommy, Where Do Jean De Brunhoff Lithographs Come From?


Something's been bugging me since visiting the otherwise over-the-top awesome baby department at Takashimaya [remember the $50,000 white lacquer Richard Meier-ian playhouse?]

In a corner, there was a little stack of framed "vintage Babar lithographs, c. 1930's, by Jean de Brunhoff." They were about $500 each. They looked appropriately vintage, and nice. But they also looked like pages sliced from a book, cropped, framed, and sold at an insane markup.

Looking around online, I see several places offering "Jean de Brunhoff lithographs" for prices ranging from £10 to $199.

Babar was a huge hit right out of the gate, and I'm sure the merchandising push followed quickly, so the existence of actual, published prints would not be surprising. But neither would the existence of print dealers chopping up books and cutting off the text and page numbers where they can.

The print up top of Babar and the Photographer at Russell Rare Prints, for example, is clearly a page from a book, mounted on a board. Which is, at least, not being spun as something else.


Collectorsprints.com is selling the Babar Does Math print for $80. The print is 15x15 inches, which is the same size as one of the three prints in lot 465 at Stair Galleries [which sold for $200]. But the images are straight from the books.

Were there actual print portfolios published? Because I can't find a full set. Were there just individual prints? Who published them? Is there a substantive difference between an "actual" print and a page from a book? Unless you're a collector, not a nursery decorator, probably not. So if you're looking for more than one, you might as well find a book with a crappy binding and go to framingtown [the bibliophile in me can't believe I just recommended that].

But if there were actual prints published, it'd be nice to find out by whom, where and in what format. Of course, the most insanely collectible de Brunhoff Babar art is probably the one that's lost.


In 1932, soon after the original Babar was published, de Brunhoff was commissioned to create a mural for the children's dining room on the SS Normandie, then the fastest, most luxurious ocean liner in the world. The Normandie launched in 1935 and didn't sink until 1942 [while docked in New York, sorry about that!], so there should be more than just this one picture left to remember it by. [image via]

Previously: Babar: Ideal Role Model, Racist Imperialist, or Elitist Poster Elephant? [Check All That Apply]


I own one of these very lithos by way of Takashimaya, courtesy of the grandparents, Xmas '06. I love it, along with the matching illustrations on the matte although can't quite figure out where they came from.

Looking at what I have versus what's on sale on that site for $35 they don't look remotely similar.

All of which means...nothing. I know nothing about this. Nice gift though. The kid likes it.

[d'oh, sorry to pricecheck. the store is full of almost perfect grandma bait, though; they know their demo well. -ed.]

We have 2 charming lithographs also purchased by Grandma from Takashimaya in 1997, accompanied by a letter saying "to the best of our knowledge this is an original Babar lithograph dating from the early 1940s." The kids have outgrown them, and we're trying to decide what to do with them. We don't have a great spot for them, and are wondering if they are valuable? Anyone?

You read the post above. Have you examined them out of the frame to see whether there's a signature or a printer's mark--or the flipside of the page from the book they were cut out of? Or maybe the only way Takashimaya could write that with a straight face was to NOT look at the back.

Your best bet to maximize the price you get for them is to unread this post and comment, and sell them on eBay, along with the weaselly text of Takashimaya's letter.

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