How Peter Rabbit and friends went global

Several years ago, my wife’s Japanese friend sent us a Christmas present. It was a beautifully decorated package from Tokyo addressed to our kids. When they opened it on Christmas morning there were whoops of delight – but surprisingly they mostly came from my wife.

Inside was a medley of Hello Kitty novelties and artefacts. Until that day, I had never heard of Hello Kitty, the character which has delighted millions of around the world - initially among pre-adolescent girls then teenagers and later their mums and grannies.

The Japanese have a great tradition in exporting loveable concept characters. Think of Mario, Pikachu and Jiji, but Hello Kitty is perhaps the best known and most endearing, especially in Europe. Simple, cute and precious, the little white cat with no mouth, has brought joy to millions.

Japanese adoration of Potterphenalia

I thought of Hello Kitty when I read an article describing how, as part of the 150th centenary of the birth of Beatrix Potter, an exhibition of some of the revered children’s author’s most priceless items of letters and watercolours and drawings was sent to Japan. It attracted a staggering 375,000 visitors.

Outside of the Hiroshima exhibition taken in 2017 by Liz Hunter MacFarlane of the National Trust

The Japanese sent us Hello Kitty but we Brits had already handed them Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddleduck and the host of characters from Beatrix’s imagination. Who got the best deal?

What a contrast between the two artistic styles. Hello Kitty is a charming little character created in pure and simple style. Her designer Yuko Shimizu is said to have been inspired by another British children’s author Lewis Carroll. Alice plays with a cat called Kitty in Through the Looking Glass. In contrast, devotees of Beatrix Potter all over the world relish the intricate detail her characters and the sheer forensic artistry that went into her work. It seems our Japanese friends do too.

 Hollywood adds a new twist to the tales

It’s unfair to say there has been a sudden revival in the work of Beatrix Potter. The love of her stories and drawings never went into decline, but her star is shining much brighter after two interventions by Hollywood movie makers in that last decade.

In 2006 there was the critically acclaimed movie Miss Potter starring Renée Zellweger. It was a box office blockbuster confirming the writer’s legacy in the distinguished history of children’s literature in this country. Miss Potter’s carefully crafted creatures are certain to remain popular for generations to come, even with the hand of Hollywood taking some control.

This year, Peter Rabbit, adored by generations of toddlers and their parents, was given the Hollywood treatment. Hollywood and the voice of TV celebrity James Corden turned a slightly naughty rabbit into a rowdy, twerking, party-loving incarnation. Eyebrows were raised and it caused one top film critic to write that he could hear the sound of Miss Potter spinning in her grave.

Photo:Columbia Pictures 

How Beatrix’s tales span generations

Beatrix Potter’s legacy has surged remarkably over the decades. Beatrix Potter expert, Fiona Baxter, has the enviable job of welcoming pilgrims to Hill Top in the Lake District, the house where Beatrix lived. They flock there from all corners of the world. Fiona told me she is in no doubt that Potter’s phenomenon is truly global and rightly so.

Beatrix Potter's Hill Top house in the Lake District photo:alamy 

Early Beatrix Potter editions sell for hundreds!

“We see early editions of her books selling for hundreds of pounds and in some cases thousands. It’s off the back of that widespread appreciation that spin-offs are made and themselves gain value. You don’t see quite the same effect if you look at Wordsworth and the famous Lakeland poets. 

In Japan they have built a replica of Hill Top House but it was even bigger than the real one. That’s how much they love her.”

Hello Kitty has made a significant impact as a modern icon but to straddle multiple generations and time zones takes something really special. Beatrix Potter and her Peter Rabbit and friends have done just that. A little white kitten and her lovely pals from the land of the Rising Sun have some serious catching up to do.

Beatrix Potter coins sparked a collecting frenzy

On our very own turf, Beatrix Potter also continues to capture our imaginations. In particular, the UK 50p coins released in 2016 to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter herself. Five coin designs were released throughout the year featuring our favourite characters, including of course, Peter Rabbit - the first release of the series and it was even more popular than anyone could have imagined...

The Silver version of the Peter Rabbit 50p with an edition limit of 15,000 coins sold out within hours of release and even crashed The Royal Mint's website because so many people were trying to get one

It caused a real stir in the collecting world and demand absolutely soared for the other versions of the coin - of course, everyone was trying to get their hands on them when they were released into circulation and collect the other four coins when they were released.

The popularity of the 2016 releases meant a further four were issued in 2017 featuring another Peter Rabbit 50p and additional characters, and the same in 2018. The same collecting frenzy happened in both 2017 and 2018, in fact, in 2017, they doubled the edition limit of the Silver Peter Rabbit 50p and it sold out again in even less time - in fact the demand was even

greater! The demand for the Beatrix Potter 50ps is unrelenting and of course, the coins are becoming more and more difficult to find in your change. Keep an eye out though - you never know, you might be lucky enough to find one

We Love Peter Rabbit! 

Here at Collectology we have seen a lot of love for all things Peter Rabbit over the last few months.Our Collector’s Edition featuring the Peter Rabbit 50p Coins has been very popular and is a rare opportunity to own all of the UK Peter Rabbit 50ps! Have a look at our Peter Rabbit products here >>