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A fun moment in book collecting

The Langs, of "Fairy Book" fame

And Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, the future Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

Assuming that you came here from my "Book Mad" page, I should start by saying that, yes, this does, eventually, have something to do with book collecting! We'll come to it in a moment. But first...

How much do you know about HRH Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother?


She died in 2002, so in today's shallow "in the moment" world, half of you will say "Who?" and the other half will say "Why?"... but I would put it to you that she was Very Special.

While this has become a bit of a paean to her, bear with me, and try to cast your mind back in time, pretend you don't know what happened "later" when we are in the days of her childhood. Please?

She was born in 1900. She lived in several eras which might each occupy a whole university history course. And in some of the eras were not inconsequential.

During World War Two, there was a time when it was not at all certain that the English wouldn't be speaking German in 1960. In those dark days, she was the wife of the English king... a story we will come to in a moment. At the height of the Nazi bombing of London, someone asked her if she, the king, and their children would be fleeing London, going someplace safer. You should understand that between the lines of her answer is "Would it be right to take advantage of our position to go someplace safe while tens of thousands of ordinary citizens are in harm's way?"

Her answer...

     The princesses will not leave us;
     I cannot leave the king,
     and the king will never leave."

(The princesses being the future Queen Elizabeth, our present queen, and her sister Margaret.)

When Buckingham Palace itself took several hits, she said, "I'm glad we've been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face."

Anyway. That was around 1940. Let's go a bit further back in time...

She was born into the Scottish aristocracy, her family's titles stretching back to the 1600s.

As a young lady around the court, she ended up the wife not of the heir to the throne, but to his brother. They married in 1923. I understand that she had misgivings about being part of the royal household. Misgivings about even merely being, in due course, sister-in-law to the king. And she had only seen the life of royals in "the good times", not during the demands on figureheads in a world war, with defeat not at all beyond the realms of possibility.


Here we have the newly-weds, secure in a favored position, in 1923, during a time which was in some respects a "golden age"... for them and for many other members of Western society. As far as they knew, a life on the edges of monarchy ahead of them.

Ten years passed, which I presume were fairly marvelous, until the Wall Street crash. She was still only one of the daughters-in-law of the king, and her husband was not the heir. Indeed, it seemed lucky that things were as they were, because her husband wasn't seen as "king" material, due to his serious speech impediment. Her husband was him of the King's Speech. Roll along thirteen... unlucky for her?... years to 1936, and there was the crisis when her father in law, the king, died, and the heir, briefly King Edward VII, failed to reconcile his public and private lives. (Perhaps the Queen Mother's reservations about the Royal life reflect her wisdom?), and Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, aged 37, found herself "Queen of England, Empress of India". England still ruled over vast parts of the world. He husband nominally... and in those days the power wasn't so diluted... ruled England and her colonies.

All this on the shoulders of a wee lass from the glens. Everyone who lived from 1900 to 2002 experienced changes of a magnitude that took 300 years or more at any other time or place. Never forget that if an oriental wishes that you may live in interesting times, he is cursing you.

But now let's now wind the clock back to 1908. Elizabeth is 8 years old. She is living a very comfortable, "charmed" life, even if the general level of "life", at least in material terms, is pretty grim back then. But there was no hint of being a princess, let alone a queen, on her horizons.

Finally we get to the book collecting part of this!

From 1889, Andrew Lang and his wife had been editing a very successful series of collections of fairy tales. Perhaps if he had known how successful they were to be, he would not have called the first one "The Blue Fairy Book". The second was the Red, in the preface to the third, he said that it might be the last. How many fairy tales, are there, after all.

Well, by the twelfth, he was scratching around for yet another color. (He settled on "Lilac".) I'm reminded of the wonderful line in Tim Rice's "Joseph", in respect of the Dreamcoat...

It was red and yellow and green and brown
And scarlet and black and ochre and peach
And ruby and olive and violet and fawn
And lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve
And cream and crimson and silver and rose
And azure and lemon and russet and grey
And purple and white and pink and orange....

(That's less than half of it)

And of the note on the cover of Douglas Adams' "Mostly Harmless", which, as the note said, was "the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker's Trilogy".

ANYWAY... to get BACK to my story of book collecting....


So, one day I was in one of "my" booksellers, having, as usual, a splendid visit. I showed my friend an absolutely stunning Lang I'd picked up at an earlier stop. He, of course, excellent bookseller that he is, had a Lang of his own for my consideration: Mrs Lang's "Book of Princes and Princesses". It was quite nice! It had a dust jacket... not "pristine", but what do you want on a children's book from 1908? Sometimes a too perfect book, while "desirable" to a collector seems a bit forlorn... a children's book that no child ever loved.


And the great thing about a dust jacket, apart from giving that copy "scarcity" points, is that it protects the book's boards... and the gilding on books of this period is often warn. Even with the dust jacket, you can see slight wear on this one, gorgeous though it still is. (I never manage to capture fully the glory of gilded boards. This copy is gorgeous, whether it shows in the picture or not! (I have airbrushed the image very slightly to iron out a slight wrinkle.))

Finally! We get to the reason for this page!...

Good booksellers, such as Peter Harrington, Henry Sotheran's, Quaritch, and Bryars, London, will always give you a write up of any book they offer, pointing out both the book's merits, and points of interest, and any flaws.

I'd read the description for this. Didn't find anything remarkable, unknown to me.

But then, in browsing through it, I saw....


A quick check of exact names and dates confirmed: Yes, the Elizabeth Bowes Lyon. Eight years old at the time. Remember: At that time, no one knew then how her life would unfold. She came from an "important" family, yes... but she was only one of many such young girls. Lang was a Scot, it is true. Book collecting is a never ending story. I look forward to unraveling why it was this little girl to whom the book was dedicated.

I have to apologies to Mrs Lang, by the way. This is her book, not her husband's. (Though he does get a credit as the editor.) I believe they were very much a literary team. So far, my researches only extend to her husband, from which I have inferred some facts about her.

So far, a fun association with someone who would grow into an admirable person... but an association from when she was but a small child. But still, I discovered it "myself", wasn't pointed to it by the bookseller.


This splendid image is of Elizabeth Boyes Lyon aged about 10, from the Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS. I'd dedicate a book to that sunny smile, wouldn't you? In fact, while this page is mostly to share the fun moment I had in the bookshop, to encourage others towards the joys of book collecting, the hours I've spent putting this together could be said to constitute "a dedication" of sorts to the memory of a marvelous, inspirational person. I hope I've been telling her story properly, and making you feel that your time in reading about her has been worthwhile.

On with the tale! It then even gets a little bit better. Not "more significant", but there is a marvelous bit of "coincidence"...

The last chapter of the book is called "The troubles of the Princess Elizabeth". Okay. If you are going to dedicate the book a a child called Elizabeth, it isn't unreasonable to use her name in the book. But in 1908, the odds against Elizabeth Bowes Lyon ever being a princess were long indeed.

And, icing on the cake: The penultimate story is "The Two Little Girls and Their Mother".... as you probably know, the dedicatee would many years later be the mother of two little girls, one of whom, of course, grew into the present Queen Elizabeth... one of the longest serving monarchs in history. That objective fact. And, subjectively, one of the most wonderful. Whatever you may say about the institution of monarchy, I don't think many would argue against the proposal that the queen is doing a wonderful job, and has made great personal sacrifice over the years in doing so.


Seeking further information...

Obviously, as already stated, I am interested in knowing what connections, if any, the Langs had with the Bowes Lyon family.

I would also be interested to know if anyone can supply information about a John Gray Buchanan, whose ownership inscription is in the book, dated 29 December 1908. (Yes, I know the copyright date printed in the book is "1909". I gather it was the practice to date books published for the Christmas market thus.

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