A Small Masterpiece and Its Illustrator are Re-Discovered!

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…

Published by

Laura Wasowicz

Curator of Children's Literature, American Antiquarian Society

7 thoughts on “A Small Masterpiece and Its Illustrator are Re-Discovered!”

  1. Have you checked Sarah Gooll Putnam’s diaries and papers for 1872-1873 to see if she mentions this book, and Avis A. Bigelow? I checked Ancestry.com, the NEHGS, etc. and I have to agree she is elusive. There are various printed Bigelow genealogies that might be checked as well. Also, since she is listed as the translator, I have to wonder if this was a married name, and she was originally from Denmark. I would be very curious to see what you do find out!

  2. Scudder’s letter uses “Miss” for both Bigelow and Putnam, and says that Bigelow used a German text as her source. That makes a distinctive Danish connection less likely, alas, but does suggest some Bigelow genealogies might have more to say.

    1. J.L.:

      Yes, the Bigelow genealogies could prove helpful; strangely, the online sources New England Ancestors (New England HisGen), Ancestry, and Family Search have not yielded anything that I could find as yet. I also hope to pay a research visit to MHS soon as well.

      Thanks for reading, and commenting!

      Laura Wasowicz

  3. I think Putnam and Mifflin were related. Sarah Gooll Putnam spent some childhhod time at a small farm in North Andover; it was owned by her parents. Her diaries have descriptions of the farm; a portion of the house remains on Putnam Street. The Putnam’s sold that farm to the Phillips – I think they were related. The Phillips daughter, Jane Appleton Phillips married George Harrison Mifflin, the publisher. The Mifflin’s owned the estate (named “The Bush”) until the 1940’s.

    1. I think you are right about the Putnam/Mifflin connection. From my brief examination of the diary, that does seem to be the case. All I need is a bit of time to put more of the pieces of the puzzle together. Thank you for commenting.

      Laura Wasowicz

  4. Have wondered about this little book for quite a while. Mine appears to be a first edition, printed by H.O. Houghton and Company in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington 1873. Cover not in such great shape but the lithographs are all intact. I was delighted to discover the identity of A.A.B. and S.C.P.

  5. My husband, six children, and I currently own and occupy the Putnam-Mifflin Estate in North Andover that you have referenced. It was built by Sarah G. Putnam’s father in 1850 as a summer house for his wife and four children. He was an owner of the Pemberton Textile Mill in nearby Lawrence which burned down in 1863? and claimed the lives of many of its workers. The home is beautiful and has had many updates, but some of the original characteristics remain. My husband and I have tried to do further research on the Putnam family, but information is hard to track down. Sarah’s journals are wonderful to read and really provide a clear view of what it was like to be a young girl growing up in the 1860’s. Please respond if you have any further pieces of this puzzle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *