Dear Mrs Shillabeer

While working in the book archives of Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, we sometimes find books that hold traces of their authors. This usually takes the form of an authorial inscription, as is the case with the charming Mr Barnacles and His Boat book that appeared in a previous blog post. It is also always very exciting when we find traces of illustrators, as was the case recently when we found this 1960 copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses: 

Child's Garden of Verses Cover

This edition is illustrated by Mary Shillabeer, who was based in Edinburgh. She was known both for her children’s book illustrations and for her beautiful marionette puppets, which you can see here and here, for example. Our own Museum of Childhood here in Edinburgh even holds some of her puppets! She also sketched and painted Edinburgh’s Rehearsal Orchestra for many years; you can see some of those paintings here. The book we found certainly shows how skilled she was:

Shillabeer illustrations

However, the most interesting thing about this book is that it was owned by Mary Shillabeer herself. Tucked into the front cover is a letter from Martin Dent, the publisher. It is addressed to “Mrs Shillabeer” at her address in Edinburgh:

Letter to Mrs Shillabeer

The letter contains the publisher’s opinion about a “question of colour”; he states that he “will happily leave it for you to put it right in whatever way you wish after Christmas”. This is a lovely little glimpse into the life and work of this talented illustrator that we were very happy to find. As the season approaches for us to start wishing each other “a very happy Christmas”, we hope that you find this as interesting as we do!

Shillabeer illustrations

This post written by Danielle

8 thoughts on “Dear Mrs Shillabeer

    • Thank you so much! We really enjoy going to the archives and we are so happy that we can bring some of that joy to you too!

  1. Thank you so much for this post!

    I am the great grand daughter of Mary and I am currently writing my thesis for my Masters in Expressive Arts Therapy. As a result, I have been in search of information on my relatives and it has been most exciting to discover this. I marvel in my memories of her and this just adds to that.

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Emily, thanks for commenting! I’m so happy you enjoyed the post. I loved finding out about your great grandmother. Best of luck with the thesis and thank you again for your kind words. Danielle

  2. Hello Danielle !

    I am also Mary’s great grand daughter. Thankyou so much for this wonderful post. I am currently writing and illustrating a children’s book collection and it is just so exciting to find this. Love love love. How wonderful that we can all remember and appreciate her this way. Thank you

    Joanna x

    • Hi Joanna, great to hear from you! I really loved getting to know your great grandmother a bit, so it is really exciting to hear that you appreciate this blog post. Thank you for getting in touch, and best of luck with the book collection! That’s incredible! Danielle

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