December 1st, 2010 by Laura Wasowicz
This haunting lithograph depicting Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Match-Girl is taken from the rare collection of Hans Andersen’s stories, Good Wishes for the Children, interpreted by A.A.B. and S.G.P., published by the famed Riverside Press in 1873. AAS acquired its copy from the illustrious bookman Benjamin Tighe in 1967, and up until now, the identity of the translator A.A.B. and the illustrator S.G.P. remained a mystery.
In a wonderful turn of serendipity, I recently received a phone call from an AAS member who was about to purchase a copy of this edition. As it turns out this copy had an inscription to “Mr. Mifflin” (George H. Mifflin of the Riverside Press) signed by Avis A. Bigelow and S.G. Putnam. My AAS friend wanted to know if I knew anything about either of them. This question took me to our copy of Who Was Who in American Art. I discovered that S.G. Putnam could have been either Stephen Greeley Putnam, a wood engraver born in 1852 who studied with American artists Henry Walker Herrick and Elias J. Whitney, or Sarah Gould Putnam, a portrait painter who was active in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. Both artists exhibited in the late nineteenth century.
Fortunately for me, I searched Worldcat.org, and discovered that Massachusetts Historical Society has the diaries and papers of Boston portrait painter Sarah Gooll Putnam (1851-1912). Reading the thorough collection description, I found that MHS also has extensive holdings of Miss Putnam’s pencil sketches, a fact I found striking given the soft pencil quality of the lithographs in Good Wishes for the Children. It turns out that Sarah Gooll Putnam was a wealthy Boston socialite who spent most of her life in Boston’s Back Bay when she was not traveling in Europe and the American West. She exhibited successfully in Boston, Chicago, and New York, with the likes of John LaFarge. All of this information was promising, but not conclusive. I eagerly scanned the contents guide, and I discovered what I was hunting for: Miss Putnam’s photograph of Hans Christian Andersen with the caption, “Photograph sent to me through Mr. Horace Scudder, April 27th, 1874”–within a year of my book’s publication! Horace Scudder was the legendary children’s book author and long-time editor for the Riverside Press.
At this point, I delved into AAS’s truly first rate collection of secondary literature: I discovered that AAS has a copy of The Andersen-Scudder Letters, published in 1941. Sure enough, I found the following passage in a letter from Horace Scudder to Hans Christian Andersen, dated January 15, 1874:
I sent you … a little book which has a history. It is entitled Hans Andersen’s Good Wishes for Children, interpreted by A.A.B. and S.G.P. These two young ladies, Misses Bigelow and Putnam, of Boston, wished to contribute something in aid of the Children’s Hospital, a very worthy and humane institution in Boston. Accordingly, Miss Bigelow translated several of your stories anew from the German version and Miss Putnam drew on stone the accompanying illustrations. We printed the book for them and I begged them to let me send you a copy with their autographs. … it would give me very great pleasure if I might be the means of securing from them one of your valued letters with photographs. … they are not professional author and artist, but ladies in refined society.
Andersen responded by sending both young ladies his photograph.
In short, Hans Andersen’s Good Wishes for the Children deserves a second look, not just because of its rarity, but because of the clearly original illustrations by an artist whose work has been partially obscured by anonymity and her nineteenth-century status as a “lady” (read permanently amateur) artist. The time has come to enjoy her contribution to Hans Andersen’s Good Wishes for Children as the masterpiece that it is.
Now, if I only had the same success in uncovering the life and career of Avis A. Bigelow…