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Illustrations from The Tale of Peter Rabbit | © The Gutenberg Project/WikiCommons
Illustrations from The Tale of Peter Rabbit | © The Gutenberg Project/WikiCommons

17 Things You May Not Know About Peter Rabbit

Picture of Ellie Griffiths
Updated: 1 November 2016
Beatrix Potter’s iconic children’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, first appeared in 1902 and followed with an appearance in five of her other tales between 1904 and 1912. Following the tale of a mischievous young rabbit in Mr McGregor’s garden has been loved throughout the last century, with no sign of Peter Rabbit hopping out of our hearts anytime soon.

1. Beatrix Potter and her brother were lucky to have many pets from birds to lizards, mice to bats, dogs, cats, hedgehogs and many others. However, she was particularly fond of her rabbits. Her first bunny, named Benjamin Bouncer, inspired her character Benjamin Bunny, whilst her second rabbit – a Belgian buck rabbit named Peter Piper – inspired Peter Rabbit.

 

2. Potter was very fond of Peter Piper, explaining in a letter: ‘Peter used to lie before the fire on the heart rug like a cat. He was clever at learning tricks, he used to jump through a hoop, and ring a bell, and play the tambourine.’

The study of Potter’s rabbit, Peter Piper, drawn by Beatrix Potter (1889) | Courtesy of V&A with kind permission of Frederick Warne & Co

The study of Potter’s rabbit, Peter Piper, drawn by Beatrix Potter (1889) | Courtesy of V&A with kind permission of Frederick Warne & Co

3. The tale of this disobedient little bunny was originally written in a letter in 1893 to her former governess’s son, Noel, to cheer him up when he was sick.

 

4. Following seven years after the original letter, Potter rewrote the story of Peter Rabbit and added black-and-white illustrations. However, she struggled to find a publisher – sending the manuscript to six publishers, receiving six rejections.

5. Due to the rejections, Potter printed over 200 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit privately – all of which successfully sold out.

 

6. In an attempt to get the publishers interested in this tale, a family friend, Canon Rawnsley, rewrote Peter Rabbit into a poem. His version began:

‘There were four little bunnies
no bunnies were sweeter
Mopsy and Cotton-tail,
Flopsy and Peter.’

7. With a request of coloured drawings to be added to the story, Frederick Warne Publisher agreed to publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit – still holding the publishing rights today.

 

8. During the first year of publishing, The Tale of Peter Rabbit made it to its sixth lot of printing. In hearing her story had been printed over 56,000 times, she claimed ‘The public must be fond of rabbits! What an appalling quantity of Peter.’

9. Realising the potential of Peter Rabbit, she oversaw the creation of the first Peter Rabbit doll, consequently bought in 1903. Further giving permission for other Peter Rabbit items to be made, board games, tea-sets, wallpapers and figurines quickly followed.

 

10. Peter Rabbit is the oldest licensed character in the world, registered at the Patent Office in December 1903 by Potter herself.

11. Although most rabbits enjoy carrots, Peter Rabbit’s favourite food are radishes.

 

12. In 1921, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in braille for the first time.

13. It is said that during the time of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney approached Potter with an idea of creating an animated Peter Rabbit. She refused. Some suggested she didn’t think her drawings were good enough or suitable for large-scale animation, whilst others claimed her refusal was her way of remaining in full control of the rights to her work.

 

14. During the London bombings of the early 1940s, an entire print-run of The Tale of Peter Rabbit was lost.

15. Left out in previous editions, the 2002 edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit introduced six extra illustrations.

 

16. Over the years, Peter Rabbit has been the star of a ballet film, a musical adaptation by HBO and a recent CGI-animated children’s TV series, as well as being heavily referenced in Potter’s biopic in 2006.

 

17. For over 100 years, over 45 million copies have been sold in over 35 languages across the world, never being out of print – with around four books by Beatrix Potter sold every minute.